December 26, 2007

Christmas in New England: The Photos

Now that we're back home in sunny Arizona (wearing t-shirts and sandals, no less), I was able to download some pictures taken during our trip to New England for Christmas. Here they are...

What blog post of mine would be complete without a bird-shot? So here is a Black-capped Chickadee in the Fogarty's backyard in Kingston, NH.

Mom and Sonja in front of the tree at their house in Maine.

Sonja knitted a lace scarf for Mom. Here she is opening it up on our first Christmas Morning of the vacation. This one was on last Thursday.

We also got them a Navajo ornament for their tree. But putting it up there required moving around some of the other ornaments. Here's Dad looking for a spot for one of the many lighthouse-themed tree-hangies.

After spending a couple days in Maine with Mom and Dad we drove down to New Hampshire to visit the Fogartys. Nick was psyched for our presence...and the lame $25 gift certificate we gave him for Christmas.

We then drove back to Maine to celebrate another Christmas, this time on Saturday. I know Sean would have wanted me to post this picture.

Sean, Annika and Marc spreading some Christmas joy.

Marc was less than enthusiastic about how obsessed Rik was with his new Nigella cookbooks.

But they both enjoyed learning about the nifty designs on their new Navajo ornament.

We were even visited by Santa Lucia, complete with her battery-powered, green plastic candle crown.

Back row: Dad, Marc, Sean, Ed, Uncle Ray, Sue, Rik
Front row: Sonja, Mom, Annika, Aunt Catherine

And what Christmas would be complete without the requisite kitty-in-wrapping-paper photo?

December 21, 2007

Christmas in New England

December has been a rough month for me and my blogging. Of course, it doesn't help that I've been out of town for a good portion of the month. Right now I'm staying in New Hampshire at my sister-in-law's house, enjoying some quality family time. Tomorrow we're headed back to Maine for a couple days. Tons of snow around here, but it's a nice break from the rain we'd been getting in Arizona.

And, since I don't have any way to download the pictures from my camera, yet, I figured I'd post a home movie dating back to 1984 that my brothers and I made on an old 8mm camera. It was one of the few times my dad allowed us to "waste" some film just goofing off. It was the only time I ever really got to play around with claymation, due primarily to my older brother Steve's knowledge of the camera and interest in goofing around with us. I just love how it really captures the feel of a lazy summer day in the mid-80's from the perspective of some creative kids (and one technically saavy college kid).

I finally got around to converting it to digital format with my new pinnacle software. Unfortunately, the quality isn't all that great considering it was originally transferred over to VHS in the late 80's before I transferred it to digital format a couple weeks ago. Both versions had already degraded considerably before the respective transfers, too, so this time around it's pretty washed out. But I was able to redub the audio with a fun Cat Stevens' song, and I think it works well with the video.

December 16, 2007

Organ Pipes and Cactus Wrens

I just got back from spending four days at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument helping with their seasonal interpretive training. It was my first time to the southwestern corner of Arizona. While it's still part of the Sonoran Desert, it's much more lush than other places I've been in the state. A tremendous variety of cacti, including the rare organ pipe cactus pictured above, and scrub bushes like mesquite and creosote. The organ pipes themselves are pretty darn cool. And a lot bigger than I had expected them to be. While they don't get nearly as tall as a 30-40 foot saguaro, they can easily reach heights of ten to fifteen feet.

Even though I didn't see any new birds (they just don't get the number of unique Mexican species that you can find in southeastern Arizona), the personality of the birds they did have more than made up for it.

This Cactus Wren (which happens to be the Arizona state bird) decided to come check out my can of soda while I was coaching some of the park's employees at a picnic table behind the visitor center. I think he wins the prize for the most charismatic wren I've ever encountered.

How can you compete with something like this? As cool as Canyon Wrens are, there's just no contest.

December 08, 2007

Bloggers Block

I have been afflicted with a rather serious strain of uncreativity lately, which explains why I haven't been blogging much. I haven't been able to find any motivation to blog for the past couple weeks. I open up this page and stare blankly at it for about ten minutes every few days, then I turn off the computer and go do something else.

Well, I'll be heading down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on Wednesday, so hopefully I'll come back with some cool pictures. In the meantime, I'll let the boys from South Park entertain you with a dire warning about the dangers of not stopping Manbearpig.

November 22, 2007


I think this might be the only picture of wild turkeys I've ever taken. And it's not a very good one. Oh well. Sonja and I are preparing a meat-free feast to enjoy later this afternoon. It mostly consists of several pies and a vegetarian-adaptation of my mom's fantastic stuffing recipe (for some reason, Sonja didn't like the idea of adding gibblets into her stuffing. Go figure). There will be mashed potatoes and crescent rolls thrown in for good measure, too. And I think Sonja's gonna heat up some cranberries, too, but I will not be partaking of them.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. At least to all the Americans reading this...for everyone else, I hope you have an enjoyable Thursday!

November 21, 2007


Here's a fun junco picture from this afternoon.

And, to update everyone on Sonja's wellbeing, she is feeling much better this week than she was last. Although, we went to the doctor on Monday and they suspect she has a fractured rib. I guess it's the type of break that won't show up very well on the x-ray, so I don't know if we'll ever really know or not. It would have been cool to have a copy of the x-ray to post up here, too.

November 18, 2007

Early Morning Light

With spending most of this last week helping Sonja recover from her accident, I haven't had much time to take the camera out. So, here are some pictures I never got around to posting from earlier this month, on a morning when I found some rare energy to get up before sunrise to get some photos of the Well.

I had a hard time capturing the warm morning light on the rocks of the Sinaguan ruins that line the rim of the Well...until I pointed my camera down and started snapping pictures of their reflection in the water.

I remember the morning as mostly silent. The morning chorus outside our bedroom window that had all summer woken us up having ended with the departure of the majority of the migratory songbirds. At least, it was quiet until I crested the rim of the Well and was greeted with a chorus of pih-TEW's from the Rock Wrens hopping about on the rocks (where else?) and the very un-ducklike squeaky-toy sound of the thirty or so American Wigeons swimming around in the water.

This Rock Wren hopped up onto the railing less than five feet from me. I actually had to back up in order to get my lens to focus on it.

After the sun had warmed things up a bit, I went down the hill to get Sonja. On our way back up, we surprised a covey of Gambel's Quail near the road. A few of them stuck around for me to take a couple pictures.

With Sonja feeling better I'm sure I'll be getting out a bit more. And when the snow starts falling on the red rocks of Sedona, you can bet I'll be out there taking a bazillion pictures. Although, it's hard to contemplate it snowing anytime soon with the daytime temps still approaching 80 degrees.

I never thought I'd say this, but I could get used to wearing sandals and shorts in November...

November 14, 2007


For those of you who haven't heard yet, Sonja was in a car accident this past Saturday while driving home from work up in Flagstaff. Luckily she wasn't severely injured (and neither was the other driver). Sonja's ok, but pretty bruised up, and rather out of it the last couple days with the pain meds she's been taking. Considering that this collision occurred at nearly 70 mph, that's pretty amazing. And I owe it all to three lifesavers: Sonja's quick reflexes, the seatbelt she was wearing, and these:

If anyone ever tries to argue that seatbelts and airbags don't matter (and I don't know anyone who would nowadays), they're full of it. I have always wondered what airbags might feel like in an accident, but after hearing Sonja's description of the experience, I can say that any desire I might have had to feel it for myself went flying out the window. According to Sonja, having your head collide with an airbag at 70 mph doesn't exactly feel like hitting a big fluffy pillow. I think it was her use of the words "face" and "brick wall" combined in the same sentence that really convinced me.

Today I saw the car for the first time, since I was in Wichita at a work conference when the accident happened (getting a call that starts with the words. "I'm ok, but..." is bad enough when you're at home; it's a thousand times worse when you're stuck 1,000 miles away in a hotel room in Kansas...nothing against Kansas, of course). I went up to Flagstaff to retrieve the items that were left inside after Sonja was taken to the hospital. I was also there to take some pictures for the insurance claim.

So, what happened was, Sonja was driving home on I-17 when she came over a rise and noticed a car in front of her. This car did not have any break lights on or hazards flashing (a detail confirmed by a witness to the accident), but was at a complete stop right in the middle of the main driving lane. Now, by the time Sonja realized that 1) the car appeared to be moving slowly, 2) the car was in her lane, and 3) the car wasn't actually moving at all, it was really too late for her to do anything other than slam on the breaks and try to avoid it as best she could. But that still wasn't enough time. I mean, who expects to have a car sitting right in the middle of the driving lanes of an interstate?? Not to mention one whose posted speed limit is 75 freakin' miles per hour.

This is what our car looks like:

I was surprised to see how unimpressive the damage to our car actually is. That little Geo can take one helluva punch. In fact, compared to how the Mercedes fared you would think that ours was the luxury car:

This thing crumpled like it was made out of paper. I thought these were supposed to be "good" cars? They're certainly expensive enough...or so I thought. I did a little research to find out just how much this guy's car was worth. Apparently, the "fair market value" for his Mercedes is only $100 more than for our little Geo.

Now, as we deal with the insurance companies, we just have to keep reminding ourselves that the most important thing here is that everyone involved is safe, at home, and healing. Everything else is just stuff...

November 07, 2007

Chasing a Lifer

Many hardcore birders subscribe to various "Rare Bird Alerts" in order to stay updated about any new or interesting species that are being seen in a particular area, and I'm no exception. Most of the time, I just find it interesting to learn which species are in the area, or to plan future birding trips. But once in a while, an alert comes down the wire that just can't be ignored. Sunday morning was one of those occassions.

I opened my email to see a report of a species for which there were only three records in the state of Arizona. A typically Mexican species whose "normal" range doesn't come within hundreds of miles of the U.S. border: the Northern Jacana. The only catch, it was hanging out on a golf course 170 miles south of us. But with the prospect of seeing a bird we may never get a chance to see again, a 350 mile round trip drive wasn't much of an obstacle.

So by Sunday afternoon, Sonja and I found ourselves dodging golf balls on the 13th hole of the Casa Grande Municiple Golf Course, watching this tiny little wading bird foraging along the edge of a water hazard. No bigger than a jay, jacana's have incredibly long toes that they use to walk on top of lily pads and other aquatic vegetation.

It was definitely a satisfyingly easy experience, but far from typical for most "lifer chasing" adventures. Click here for more pictures of this jacana from some of the other birders that stopped to see it. The best thing was that the jacana wasn't even the only lifer we saw. About 20 minutes into our time at the course, we spotted another pair of birds we had never seen before...

These Harris Hawks decided to hang out in this snag for about fifteen minutes, giving us a great look at what some ornithologists refer to as the "wolves of the sky". Harris Hawks actually hunt cooperatively in "packs" to flush their main prey, jackrabbits, into the talons of their pack-mates. I like to think of them as the motorcycle gang of the bird world.

And finally, I thought I'd post a couple more pictures of the striped skunk that stopped by our place a couple nights ago.

November 05, 2007

Strangers in the Night

We've always known that we have a plethora of nocturnal neighbors roaming the park. But for the most part have only caught glimpses of some of them on the rare occasion that we catch them in our headlights as we're pulling into the park after dark. Recently, however, Harvey and Luna have been regularly waking us up in the middle of the night with the very pleasant sound of a flurry of barking and jumping up at the bedroom window. Every time it happens I jump up to peek outside and try to see who they're so excited about. Well, by the time they get done with their ruckus whatever was outside the window is long gone, so I never got a good opportunity to see anything. Well, last night Sonja and I beat the dogs to the punch and caught a glimpse of not one but two different nighttime visitors.

This pack/herd/pod of javelinas also included a cute little baby, but once I started flashing pictures of them they kept the little one out of sight. You can quite clearly see the "collar" marking on their shoulders, hence their other name: collared peccaries.

About an hour later I heard more scuffling outside and thought the javelinas had come back. So, I stuck my head out the window (I had removed the screen the day before) and was surprised to see this chubby little fuzzball scruffling around in the dirt not more than five feet under my head. When I first saw it I was hoping it was actually one of the hog-nosed skunks I'd seen along the ditch. But that black stripe down its back identifies it as a more common striped skunk.

We've also caught glimpses of a smallish racoon, but have yet to capture it on film. I'm still hoping to try to rig up the birdcam to do this for I don't have to stick my head out the window with my good camera leaning over a skunk.

October 28, 2007

It's a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

Well, great pumpkinS, actually. We visited an actual pumpkin patch over in Prescott to select our Halloween pumpkins this year. I think this is the very first time I've ever been to an actual pumpkin least for the purpose of buying a pumpkin, anyway.

We eventually found three that called our names (we couldn't decide on just two). Unfortunately, living in a park with only one neighbor means that decorating the house for different holidays is pretty much for our eyes only. Not that this is going to prevent me from coming up with a really cool design for carving my pumpkin, of course.

October 27, 2007

Birdcam Time-lapse

Our birdcam from Wingscapes took 73 images today. That's about all it will hold until I get a memory card for it. But, it took 5 hours to capture all those pictures using the settings I chose. Rather than having to choose only a couple of these pictures to post on here, I decided to show them all to you. So I turned them into an animated "gif" that gives you an idea of what it's like to spend five hours sitting on the ground next to our house. The file is 8 megs, so be patient while it loads (I think you have to click on the picture in order to see the animation).

I counted three species enjoying the sunflower seeds this morning: House Finches, White-crowned Sparrows, and a Dark-eyed Junco (bonus points for anyone who can identify the subspecies of junco). Figures that five minutes after I pick up the camera three doves decide to walk right in front of where it was sitting.

October 25, 2007

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Do you ever get tired of arguing with the naysayers who refuse to acknowledge that global climate change is a human-caused phenomenon? Well, now you don't have to argue. Watch the video below to see how simple logic can make the entire "it's our fault/it's not our fault" argument an irrelevant waste of time.

We all need to be "column thinkers" instead of "row arguers". Remember that next time you need to: buy a light bulb/car/refrigerator; decide between driving or biking/walking somewhere; get to choose the type of insulation you put in your home; decide whether or not to buy recycled materials; make a choice between buying products from companies who are environmentally conscious and those that aren't.

Before you decide ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?" If you can answer that question honestly, you'll make the right choice.

Wingscapes Birdcam

I'm finally getting around to setting up our Wingscapes birdcam. I've given up on trying to capture the mountain lion, for now. At least until I can figure out how to rig up a motion sensing light to the cam, too. And some way to keep the camera from shutting off at night.

Anyway, I set it up next to our quail block yesterday. Unfortunately, I also filled our hanging feeder which ended up being much more popular with the local avifauna. So this was the only picture we got.

I set the focus wrong and ended up with too much backlight, though. Today's experiment should be better since I rigged it up to capture our hanging feeder. I also set out some peanuts and black-oil sunflower seeds to try to bring in some interesting birds. I'm excited to see what I capture. I'll post the results tonight.

October 21, 2007

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado

Ok, so this post isn't really going to be about Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. It's about my trip to the site where he may (or may not) have crossed into what is now the U.S. in his expedition to find the fabled "Cities of Gold." Coronado National Memorial is located in the far southeastern corner of Arizona, and shares a 15 mile border with Mexico. It's a really cool little park that interprets the expedition undertaken in the year 1540 by 335 Spanish Conquistadors, four Franciscan monks, and 1,100 Indian "allies" into the heart of North America.

Even though I was there on business I found time to explore a bit and have a little fun. That's a painting of Vásquez behind me. For me, one of the most exciting things about visiting extreme southeastern Arizona is the amazing variety of typically Mexican species of birds. In many cases, this is the only spot in the US where these birds can be seen. Coronado National Memorial sits on the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains, part of a series of mountain ranges called the "Sky Islands" that provides a unique habitat for these birds.

But there is another, equally fascinating (but much sadder) issue that smacks you in the face during a visit to the park.

The Mexican border. I got to ride with one of Coronado's law enforcement rangers to view the border fence. Having crossed back and forth into Canada dozens of times, there's a certain amount of almost laughable formality to our northern border. In most places the only thing standing in the way of someone who wants to go to Canada is a wide swath cut through the forest, and perhaps a single cement post marking the two sides. This border, however, stands in stark contrast to what all my liberal ideas of what an international border should be. It's utterly depressing in and of itself, but when you throw in the constant presence of border patrol vehicles and the towers outfitted with thermal cameras it becomes downright threatening and, in my opinion, anti-American.

We had an interesting conversation about the evolution of the concept of immigration in this country over the past 250 years. It seems that, since before we became a nation, Americans have had this "Us and Them" mentality with regards to who the "good" and "bad" immigrants are. In the mid-19th century, it was the Irish. Then, during World War I, the Germans. During World War II it was the Japanese (they were easier to tell apart than the Germans). Now it's Hispanics, but Mexicans in particular. Our language has changed, too. Instead of referring to them as people, we now try to dehumanize anyone entering our country illegally by calling them "aliens." Scary word, huh?

Anyway, standing next to the border, and talking with a "Federale" who spends every day patrolling the border within the park, the complexity of the immigration issue sort of smacks you in the face. I must admit I was tempted to try to "illegally immigrate" to Mexico, just to see what would happen. In the end, I decided sticking my arm through the fence would have to be enough of a statement.

Ok, back to the more funner stuff. I'm sure it comes as no surprise to learn that I took advantage of my time in a cool place to take lots of pictures. Here are some of the better ones. I'm happy to report that I am feeling more and more comfortable using my camera, and I really think it's beginning to show with the pictures I'm taking. For instance, I learned to put more effort into concentrating on adjusting the aperature rather than the shutter speed. So here are some of the better images from the last two days.

This javelina limped up to the pond behind the visitor center on Friday afternoon. She hung out there several hours, but we never could figure out how badly she was injured.

I was excited to see more Phainopepla buzzing around. They've been gone for about a month now from our backyard. I like the contrast in this picture, and the narrow depth of field gives it some nice perspective.

Gila Woodpecker perched on the stem of a century plant.

Loggerhead Shrike

The last time we visited the Huachucas Sonja and I left with ten new lifers each. This time, I got one. But it was "the one" I was hoping for...

Montezuma Quail! I spotted the male along the side of the road just after sunrise on Saturday morning. He quickly ran back into the weeds before I could get my camera out, but then a female popped out for a minute. Just enough time to get two pictures of her, only one of which came out. Out of all the "Mexican" species that you can see in this part of Arizona, this one is probably one of the hardest ones to spot. They tend to be very shy and don't stick around long if they think someone is in the area. This is also one of the only places in the country where you stand a half-way decent chance of spotting one.

On my way home I stopped by the west unit of Saguaro National Park, outside of Tuscon. I arrived just in time for sunset and was able to capture some neat pictures of the saguaro and some of the birds along one of the shorter trails.

Norther Mockingbird on an ocotillo.

Western Flycatcher (I think?)

Black-throated Sparrow

Sunset in Saguaro National Park.