February 25, 2006

The Cold Bug, Texas Style

Ugh. That about says it all. I get back from Texas and end up flat on my back for three straight days. As I am currently experiencing a rare state of semi-lucidity, I figured I'd pop over to work and make a little post. Bummer that I haven't been able to enjoy the beautiful weather here the last couple of days. We even got about an inch of snow today, and although the roads remain trecherously icy, the gleam of the sun off of the fresh snow on Mount Alice across the bay makes it all worthwhile.

I was also bummed that this bug has lasted as long as it has, since the Anchorage Audubon group made a special trip down here to Seward to check out five Crested Auklets that have been hanging out in the harbor. Normally, you need to take a trip out into the Aleutians or the Pribilof Islands to see these guys. Hopefully they'll stick around long enough for me to see them. I've only got 9 birds to go before I break the "Alaska 200" mark. That's bird-nerd talk for identifying at least 200 different species of birds within the state of Alaska. I'm not all that into listing...well, sort of. I just don't take it to extremes and reduce every bird I see to little more than a checkmark. I still do everything I can to enjoy and really observe any bird I see. That said, my recent trip to south Texas has bumped my life list total over the 400 mark in North America.

Not much else to say. But this is kinda funny.

February 19, 2006

Chachalacas, Caracaras and Kiskadees, Oh My!

I just finished a two-day marathon birding trip to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. Last week I learned I would be flying to San Antonio for a couple days to conduct some interviews for potential interns at Kenai Fjords, so I figured I'd have a little bit of fun on my weekend and try to see some birds I may never get another chance to look for. So, what did two days and 783 miles of birding yield? Here are some of the pictures I took to try to capture a few of the highlights (if you haven't figured it out, yet, clicking on the pictures brings up a larger image).

Day 1 found me working my way south and east from San Antonio towards Corpus Christi. Just north of there is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, my first birding destination. Despite only spending four hours at the refuge, I was still able to identify 53 different species, eleven of which I had never seen before, my lifers for the day. The term "lifer" or "life-species" is usually used to describe birds never before seen by you, and which now can be added to your "life list". My life list documents the date and location of the first time I ever saw a particular species.

Here are two of my eleven lifers from Day 1 (yesterday). On the left is a Crested Caracara, a vulturey raptor that I've wanted to see for a long time. Too bad it turned out a bit fuzzy. This is undoubtedly one of the most "bad-ass" birds I've ever seen. This one was hanging out on the side of the road sharing a dead opossum with another caracara. They look like they should be hanging out in the Serengeti rather than Texas.

This is a Golden-fronted Woodpecker, one of two new woodpeckers species I saw during my birding trip.

Below are a bunch of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, another species I've been wanting to see for a while. Their bills were a crazy neon orange color that could be seen distinctly from a hundred yards away.

Here are the rest of my lifers for day one: Neotropic Cormorant, Harris Hawk, American Avocet, White-winged Dove, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Couch's Kingbird, Eastern Meadowlark, and the incredibly endangered Whooping Crane. The Whoopers were my main reason for visiting Aransas. I only saw three of them, and they were pretty far off in the distance, but seeing them is something I have wanted to do since I first learned what it meant when a species is "endangered." Yesterday was a good day.

When I woke up this morning I was determined to one-up my experience from yesterday. Things got off to a good start right off the bat as I spotted a flock of Green Parakeets flying over Brownsville. This is the only town in the U.S. where you stand a chance of seeing these birds. I didn't get much of a look at them. I probably could have scouted around a bit more to see them better, but considering that it was 37 degrees and windy I figured it would be better to get into the forest of Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary as early as possible. On a side note, it was colder where I was this morning, only 100 feet from Mexico at the southernmost tipe of Texas, than it was in Seward. Go figure.

When I arrived at the bird sanctuary I was greeted immediately by a flock of the most striking birds I have ever seen. Green Jays are a mexican species that have only recently begun to move into the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. This is one of the more reliable places to see them.

These birds thought it would be funny to follow me along the trail, scolding me the entire way in an attempt to scare away all the other birds. It probably would have worked if they hadn't gotten distracted by a big bobcat that paused to check me out for a few minutes. I guess they thought following the bobcat would be more funner.

The Plain Chachalaca quickly became one of my favorite lifers of this trip. They were awesome. And they had some really great skills. Seriously, they did! Later this morning when I got back to the trailhead I saw a flock of about eight of these chicken-sized birds hanging out beneath the bird feeder the Green Jay is hanging off of in the picture above. When the jays would leave for a few minutes, the chachalacas would get impatient for more food, so they'd send one of them up a nearby branch where he would launch himself at the feeder, kicking it hard enough to knock a handful of birdseed out of it as he flopped to the ground. I sat there for over a half hour watching this. It was flippin' sweet!

Then there were the Turkey Vultures. These weren't lifers for me, but there had to be thousands of the stupid birds in the refuge. And every single time i would round a corner fifty or sixty of them would launch into the air from their perches, scaring the crap out of me and silencing any other birds within earshot. It did make for a cool spectacle, though, watching several thousand big vultures swarming all around like flies.

Next we've got the Great Kiskadee, a type of tropical kingbird, on the left. On the right is a picture of a Gadwall (not a lifer for me) next to a much smaller Least Grebe, another south Texas specialty. The grebe was hanging out below a blind set up along the trail, so I got to watch it swim around for quite a while.

The kiskadee was really neat, too. I'm bummed that this picture is a bit fuzzy. I tried taking another one when it perched on the railing of the boardwalk about ten feet way, but the moment I moved it flew off and I didn't see it again.

Finally, we've got the Altamira Oriole. I'm really proud of this photo. It took a while (and a lot of fiddling around with the camera controls) to finally score this one. I might try to print out a copy and get it framed. The sanctuary staff had nailed up a bunch of grapefruit halves to the trees in order to attract the orioles. I remember doing something similar as a kid in Minnesota...with mixed results. Well, it worked this time. The oriole kept coming back to snack on the fruit. I even saw him try out the feeder when the jays weren't around.

Total species for day 2: 41 (13 of those were lifers). I think the novelty of seeing so many mexican birds in such a short amount of time made today a more rewarding experience for me. The rest of my lifers for today included: Olive Sparrow, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Ringed Kingfisher, Tamaulipas Crow, Black-crested Titmouse, and a Long-billed Thrasher.

Fast Food Knights

Ok, this whole story is losing momentum fast. Bummer that I had to draw it out over four days, but oh well. If this last entry sucks because of that, too bad.

So where were we? Oh yes, dinner. In the last episode you saw me enjoying some medieval chicken with my medieval crown. Well, that chicken didn't just magically appear in my mouth, although there were several wizards in attendance so that possibility wasn't out of the question, and you know how wizards like to play practical jokes.

Here is Serf Christopher, joyfully slopping some medieval stew into one of our medieval bowls. He was quite cheerful, considering he's a serf. I didn't notice anything malodorous about him, either. Unusual for a serf. Although I suppose it makes for a much more pleasant dining experience if the serving serfs don't smell like poo. You may be wondering where the serving wenches were. I mean, what good would a medieval feast be without a generous helping of wenches? Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the wenches, but they were around. In fact, we had booze wenches, hot towel wenches, soda wenches and glow-in-the-dark sword wenches. But since none of them played much of a role in our little adventure this is the last you will hear of them.

I think this photograph speaks for itself.

Now, on with the tournament! Here are the players:

Here we have the hero of our little tale, the Blue Knight. We were ordered by some guy wearing yellow tights to cheer for him. Sort of like how my mom used to force me to invite my little brother (who bears the same name as our serf) along whenever I did anything remotely resembling fun. Luckily, my friends and I had gotten very good at camoflaging our forts, which made things much easier when it came time to do some ditching. Our little knight lost, by the way. In his defense, however, I must add that I was very impressed with his knightly skills. That is, until he was unhorsed in the joust and disemboweled by the Red Knight.

Then we've got this chap. He spent more time running around the arena than any of the knights. Must have gotten caught poaching the King's deer.

Ok, that joke sounded much funnier before I actually typed it out. But I'm too lazy to delete it, so it stays.

On the left is the bad guy of the story, who was finally escorted out of the arena, after all was said and done, by a bullwhip-cracking, axe-wielding executioner. The four year old boy sitting in front of us was so enamored with this guy's performance that he was screaming in support of his death louder than anyone else in our section.

On the right we've got the Yellow Knight. Not only did he win the tournament, but he also defeated the bad guy and got to marry the princess. Other than that, he pretty much sucked at everything. I was surprised the guy stayed on his horse through the entire thing.

Finally, we have the entire cadre of knights, including their squires. I'll let you decide which one you think is the coolest.

So there you have it. A night at Medieval Times. What do you think...was it worth the $50? Now throw in a knight's head sippy cup and ask yourself one more time. *sighs* I love my knight's head sippy cup...

February 18, 2006

This Serf's For You

Contrary to how it may have appeared, I do, in fact, know those three lovely drunks in the last entry. They are park ranger classmates of mine from the NPS training I attended in Harpers Ferry. From left to right they are Angela, Nancy and Matt. More importantly, on the shelf above Nancy's head way in the background you can make out part of one of the knight models I was talking about earlier. Note that I am not talking about the small plush unicorn...although those definitely have a certain appeal, as well.

This was the view from my seat. Note the knight's head sippy cup displayed prominently in the upper left quadrant of the image. The bowl and plate were both pewter...I think. They were heavy and made of metal, and I would hope they wouldn't make everyone drink their soup out of a lead bowl. Anyway, add the plastic "mead stein" to the right and the colorful paper placemat and the transformation from cheesy mall theme-restaurant to medieval tournament feast is complete. Add to the mix a couple hundred geeks wearing paper crowns and you've got yourself the makings of ... well, I'll let you decide what you've got.

Because blogger.com is being a pain in the ass tonight, this is the only other picture I could post in this entry. Again, the knight's head sippy cup is displayed prominently as I demonstrate the proper medieval dinner etiquette.

Because I'm not in the mood to fight with the computer tonight I'll say again that this entry will be concluded in another entry. I was even going to put up some pictures from my birding adventures in south Texas this morning AND my foray into Mexico this afternoon, but those will have to wait, as well. If nothing appears here by Monday morning it means that I don't have any internet access in San Antonio. If that happens, don't expect another update until Thursday at the earliest. But think of all the cool stuff you'll be able to look forward to reading!

February 16, 2006

Knight Head Sippy Cups

Finally, my life is complete. Last night I experienced one of life's great pleasures. It was an evening filled with lances, half of a chicken, and drinking beer from a straw sticking out of a knight's head. That's right, it was an evening at Medieval Times!

Now, you might think that the priviledge of eating dinner in a beautiful castle like this would be more than enough to justify the $50 price tag. But the experience was so much more than that. For instance, this wasn't just any medieval castle located ten minutes from Baltimore International Airport. THIS castle had its own shopping mall and multiplex movie house. You actually had to enter through the main mall entrance to get into the castle, too. Much more strategically effective than a moat, if you ask me.

Of course, what castle would be complete without a display of crappy plastic princess hats and pewter dragon cups? I must admit that I was tempted to blow a huge wad of cash in this place. Not on something as useless as a princess hat, though. Nope, I spent my time drooling over the displays of two-foot medieval knight models, Roman gladius swords, and heraldic shields that can be hung on a wall. If I wasn't so financially responsible, or a respectful husband that always checks with his loving wife before making a purchase of more than $50, I could have wisely invested over $1,000 in assorted knightly paraphenalia.

Instead I bought a knight's head sippy cup. Seriously, this thing is really cool. Probably the coolest "mug" I own. It's authentic goldesque-enamelled ceramicite. AND, you get to sip your drink out of the back of a knight's skull. This becomes even more cool if you fill it with a blood-colored drink.

The festivities began with the obligatory drinking. Notice that I wasn't the only one who discovered the value of owning your own knights-head sippy cup.

So there you have part one of this epic story. Unfortunately, I am on my way out the door to catch a plane to Texas, so I'll try to finish it later. But stay tuned for our next exciting episode: "The Blue Knight's a Pansy" or, "This Serf's For You"

February 13, 2006

Moon Rocks

Our nation's capitol holds many wonders that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Well, since I'm out in this area for a couple weeks, I've been able to do a little exploring of my own to see some of my favorite wonders. It's difficult to know how you may react emotionally to some of these places and objects until you see them for yourself, and although photographs can never completely recreate these experiences fully, perhaps you'll get an idea of what it might be like to spend a day in DC. So, here are a couple of the highlights that I was lucky enough to capture on film...er, well, on microchip at least.

No visit to Washington is complete without a visit to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum to experience their display of this otherworldly object. Transcending reality is not out of the question after slowly sliding your finger across its slick metallic surface, as demonstrated by the poor lady pictured here.

After petting the moon rock for a while, I opted for a little bit of history over checking out a full-sized replica of C-3PO. So I headed over to the National Archives. Believe it or not, this is a close-up of the Bill of Rights. What you don't see here are all of the sentences that have been crossed out as irrelevant by Dubya. Although he didn't sign his work, the crayon scribbles sort of gave it away.

I also stopped for a look at the Magna Carta, which, by the way, is in a much cooler display than either the Declaration of Independance or the Constitution. Although it lacked the burly and oh-so-cheerful guards standing at either end. It also kept moving, so my picture came out a little blurry.

There wasn't really much else of note. I would have taken more pictures of my day in DC, but honestly, what more is there? I did see an elephant, though, which is always rewarding. Seriously, how often do you get to say that you saw an elephant?

You probably heard about the snowstorm we had out here this weekend, too. It didn't really amount to much out here at Harper's Ferry, but it did make things awful purty. So below I've included a picture of a snowy Potomac River.

Finally, this is where I've been spending most of my time while in West Virginia. It's the main building of the National Park Service's Mather Training Center. It's located on Camp Hill, above the town of Harper's Ferry. During the Civil War this town changed hands a dozen times as the Union and Confederacy fought for control of the region. After the war it became the nation's first African American college before being donated to the National Park Service in the 1950's. There are a lot of really smart people who have lived and worked here. It's really cool to be able to spend time here and interact with many of the leaders of the park service. Makes me feel special. Not as special as this guy, but you get the idea.

February 10, 2006

So I slept really bad last night. I had weird dreams about camping in an RV at the base of an erupting ash volcano.

But I got outside this morning and walked up the hill to the Mather Training Center with tons of birds flitting everywhere.

  • A flock of Cardinals fighting over a birdfeeder until a Blue Jay flew up and scared them all away,

  • Several White-Throated Sparrows foraging in the underbrush,

  • A House Wren hopping from low branch to low branch,

  • A Mourning Dove calling forlornly from a pine bow,

  • A Downy Woodpecker and some sort of sapsucker competing for grubs on an oak tree,

  • And a Tufted Titmouse calling out for "Peter! Peter! Peter! Peter!"

It was a really nice walk.

February 08, 2006

Cloud City

Well, despite the crappy weather on Monday I made it to the airport in plenty of time to catch my flight out of town. The trip was pretty uneventful, although I did learn the hazards of consuming large quantities of burger king food just prior to a five hour flight. Let's just say I discovered that airplane bathrooms smell exactly the same regardless of how odiferous your activities within their confines become. It really was quite amazing how effective the odor masking products they use are.

So for the next week and a half I'll be staying in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. As you can see, it is an enchanted village perched high in the clouds. It's even got a bunch of creepy, old haunted houses from the Civil War era. And, to top it all off, the frosting on the proverbial cake, Lando Calrisian was on Scrubs last night! Lando rocks. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, though, considering I'm staying in a Cloud City. Too bad this one doesn't have a carbon freezing chamber. That would be awesome.

February 06, 2006

Crappy Weather and Crappy Roads

Well, so much for leaving today. The Seward Highway is closed between here and Anchorage. 80 mph winds are forecast in Turnagain Arm along the highway. The roads are covered with ice which is covered by water that is freezing to the ice already on the road. Avalanche danger along the passes is extreme. Anchorage schools and federal offices are closed because of freezing rain. I ain't goin' nowhere.

According to United Airlines, however, there is no reason why I shouldn't be able to reach the airport in time for my flight. They are refusing to allow me to change my ticket without charging an additional $550 in fees. Fortunately, it's not me that will have to pay for it. Well, actually, I will ultimately be paying for it, but so will everyone else in the U.S., since it's being payed for with tax money.


We also heard that Seward was under a tsunami warning this morning until 9:45am. Considering that our office is only about 100 yards from the ocean it had everyone pretty freaked out. That is until the police department called and notified us that the tsunami warning system in Seattle "burped" and sent out a false report. At least they caught it before the tsunami sirens started blaring.

I'm Leaving, On a Jet Plane

I'm headed to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, today (and tomorrow) for a two week training for the National Park Service. Should actually be pretty fun. I'll try to make some posts as much as I can while I'm there.

The weather turned to CRAP, again, here in Seward. Too bad I'm going to miss it. Three inches of rain on top of two and a half feet of snow does not equal a pretty picture.

February 05, 2006

Hairy Plaid

Inspired by my little brother, I decided to conduct an exhaustive search for my own toy counterpart...the perfect representation of who I would be had I been born stuffed with cotton.

Well, I believe my search is over:

Meet Hairy Plaid Guy. He's got charisma. He's got spunk. He's got legs coming out of his mouth. And, most importantly, he's got an irresistable charm that just makes you want him to be your BFF (Best Friend Forever). He's perfect. Now all I have to do is win the damn auction.

There were a few others that came in a close second, including this guy. But I felt that he was missing the S.N.A.G. component in me (Sensitive New-Age Guy). He's definitely got the whole funky yeti thing going, but I believe there is more to me than that. So Hairy Plaid Guy bumped smiley here out of the top spot.

I've also recently learned that I have been immortalized in a video game. The creators of Half-Life and Half-Life 2 felt that the only way they could get people to care about their protagonist, Gordon Freeman, would be to make him the most ruggedly handsome video game character ever. In short, he had to be the perfect man.

They succeeded. I only wish they had asked my permission, first. Oh well. I can't have my cake and eat it, too, I guess.

February 04, 2006

Frozen Jellies and a Flying Suit

While walking along the beach with Luna and Harvey this afternoon we came upon a sad, but beautiful sight. Spread out on the rocks near the high tide line was a jelly, frozen solid after meeting an untimely demise from several hours of exposure to the 15 degree air. The normally semi-transparent creature was now milky white, it's rusty tentacles, all bunched up and frozen together, looked like slimy, rust-colored warts on the surface of the unfortunate creature. I flipped it over to get a look at the rest of it and was quickly able to identify it as a lion's mane jelly:

They're fairly common in the bay and can get pretty big. In fact, their tentacles can reach lengths of up to 100 feet. This one was about the size and shape of a frisbee.

We finally got rid of the rest of the crappy cat food today. Although it took a while for the gulls to find it. I guess they were busy gulling somewhere else. Once they did show up I was able to get some cool close-up pictures. Once all the food was gone they just sat around staring forelornly up at me as I stood in the snow, surrounded.

It was interesting to watch the dominance hierarchy play out as they all moved around, occassionally jostling for a better position in the event that I would throw more cat food.

Finally, Ivan Ivanovich has gone silent. After being tossed from the International Space Station yesterday he completed two full orbits of Earth in nothing but a space suit before radio contact was lost...somewhere over Japan, I guess.

Here he is being pushed out the hatch:

So long, Ivan, and thanks for all the fish.

February 03, 2006

How to get rid of cat food your cat won't eat

Spoiled Cat:

Yucky Food:

The following demonstrates one option for quickly disposing of food your dumb cat refuses to eat.

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Voting Irregularities

You can't make up better stuff than this. So, yesterday the GOP members of Congress convene to vote on a replacement for the Speaker of the House, since Tom DeLay stepped down due to his indictment on conspiracy and money laundering charges (how noble of him). Nothing out of the norm there...well, aside from the House speaker facing felony charges. Instead, let's say nothing all that surprising.

Anyway, all the GOP congressional members cast their votes and turn them in to be counted. Well, guess what happens...more ballots are cast than the total number of GOP's in Congress. Another shining example of ethical politics in Washington.

On a lighter note, how would you like to find these in your freezer?

Unfortunately, I don't think there's anything quite so entertaining to be found in our freezer. Unless you count two dead birds, 30 Otter-Pops, and an unidentifiable object that may or may not be a pizza pocket.

Last night I spent a couple good hours playing Metroid on a nifty little Nintendo console I got for Christmas. I had forgotten how addicting this game is...and how hard it is if you don't have any maps or cheat codes. Not that I ever used either of those before. Cuz, that would've been cheatin'. I also rediscovered how completely insane the save codes are. Last night I had to scramble around for a pen and paper to write this down:

00cy2x 000,00

01wmZ? vr23K8

I'd also forgotten how much I don't like the jumpy up and down areas. And those little slug things suck donkey butts.

Much fun can be had by turning the volume way up while playing and annoying the crap out of anyone else in the same room with you. The Metroid theme music is incredibly catchy...and repetitive.

So, last I remember I was hanging out with these little fuzzy guys and a couple of spitting sea horsies. Then my thumbs started bleeding and it wasn't much fun anymore.

Games today just aren't the same. Neither are GAME ROOMS, apparently.