December 31, 2008

2008's Top Five "Birdy" Moments

As has become sort of a tradition, I'm choosing to do a "Top 5" list to close out 2008. As has ALSO become sort of a tradition, I will be copying Patrick's idea.

So, here are my top five "birdy" moments of 2008.

5. 2008 Christmas Bird Count
I had been planning on posting a report of my experience with the '08 CBC, but I got a little distracted. So I figured this would be as good a place as any to put it. Even though the day was wet...very, very wet (it rained the entire time), I still had a great experience. I love participating in the CBC. Not only does it give me an excuse to go out birding (as if anyone needs an excuse), but the camaraderie of gathering together with other birders and tallying the day's count is always exciting. There's such a sense of anticipation and delight at learning what everyone saw during their count.

As I mentioned, my count was very wet. I volunteered for a 7.9 mile route down the Going to the Sun Road, starting at the Lake McDonald Lodge, then turning off toward Kelly Camp around the northeast end of the lake. The snowshoeing wasn't necessarily that difficult, but I still got drenched from the outside (rain) as well as the inside (sweat).

The most anticipated spot along my route was the bridge at the head of the lake over McDonald Creek. Sonja had been spotting dozens of eagles here a month ago, all feasting on the spawning kokanee salmon. I saw four, plus about a half-dozen Chestnut-backed Chickadees, some Pine Siskins and a Steller's Jay.

But the highlight of the entire day was spotting the little American Dipper happily diving into the creek in search of aquatic invertebrates. These little birds absolutely amaze me every time I see them. They have a tremendous range (from interior Alaska to Arizona) and are completely non-migratory (given that there is an open stream available year round). It's hard to believe that the little birds toughing it out all winter north of Fairbanks and those chillin' in the warm perennial streams of southern Arizona are the same species. This bird is why Sunday's CBC is on my top five list.

4. Any morning spent enjoying Montezuma Well
As much as I love living at Glacier National Park, I really miss Montezuma Well. There are very few places I have ever been where you can actually feel the spirit of the place. Montezuma Well is one of them. The sense of timeless magic and peacefulness is palpable. Each season has a different sort of magic, too. In the winter, my favorite thing to do is walk slowly up to the rim from the parking lot. As you crest the ridge you are suddenly bombarded with the adorable squeaking of dozens of American Wigeons. Hearing that sound brought a smile to my face every single time. In the summer, the place to be is in the little oasis at the end of the trail where the water emerges from the cliff face into the prehistoric irrigation canal, the Outlet. Sitting comfortably under the dense forest canopy with your feet soaking in the 74 degree water, while the Arizona sun scorches everything not in shade, is an experience you'll never forget. And the birds know this, too. Even in the heat of the afternoon I never failed to see/hear all manner of birdlife: Summer Tanagers, Hooded Orioles, Bridled Titmice, Canyon Wren, Rock Wren...

3. Madera Canyon
What more can be said about Madera Canyon? Any visit to that birding paradise deserves a spot on your top 5 list!

2. Madera Canyon
And if you go more than once, it deserves TWO spots on your list!

1. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Even my trips to Madera don't trump this little gem of an experience. It was my last official day working at Montezuma Well, and I decided to take a video camera to document my commute to work along the prehistoric irrigation canal that ran behind our house. I had assumed that I had seen all the new species that I would see in Arizona, considering we would be moving to Montana within a few days. Imagine my surprise when I heard a bird I had been dreaming of seeing for nearly 20 years during my morning walk. And I had the video camera along to document the moment! So here it is, my top "birdy" moment of 2008:

Happy New Year to all of my faithful readers. Here's hoping that 2009 lives up to it's promise:

December 20, 2008

Behind Our House

After several days of biting wind and blowing snow, today the air is bright, cold and crisp. So, despite the subzero temps I grabbed my camera, pulled on my mukluks and post-holed my way through the snow and into the woods just behind our house.

I'm still having some difficulty figuring out how to deal with the white balance and contrast between shadows and light in the snow, but I think I'm getting a little better.

December 19, 2008

It's Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Curoivie!

Time to make the donu...I mean curoivie. These cookies just scream Christmas to me. Growing up it was one of the things I looked forward to the most this time of year. I'd typically stuff my face with several dozen of these clovey little sour cream cookies. I've tried looking up the name we always called them (curoivie...pronounced ker-AH-vee), but they must be a super secret recipe Grandma Schweighofer's mom brought over for Austria/Hungary.

Best. Cookies. Ever.

And I think someone else in our family probably agrees. Although, I'm not sure if he's had as tough a time convincing his spouse that these are, in fact, delicious cookies. Luckily, after ten years she's finally beginning to see the light!

Even though it is not (is too) a competition, I think mine look way prettier.

Socializing Corporate Stupidity

Be sure to click on this and read the fine print.

You know, even though politically I tend toward the socialist part of the spectrum (ok, maybe I don't "tend toward" so much as "abide entirely within"), this Big Three bailout just turns my stomach and pisses me off. I can almost understand the necessity of bailing out the banks in order to prevent a complete economic collapse, but something about rescuing Ford, Chrysler and GM from their own moronic policies is absolutely ludicrous.

I mean, it's their OWN DAMN FAULT no one is buying their shitty cars!

Congress balks every single time someone proposes socializing health care (which would actually HELP nearly everyone in this country) but bends over backwards to socialize corporate greed and stupidity. It boggles my mind. Really, it does.

December 16, 2008

The Shoe Heard Round the World

In case you haven't seen this yet.


December 13, 2008

Triumph vs. Star Wars Geeks

Only a true Star Wars geek can fully appreciate the humor in these clips. Personally, I didn't find them funny at all.

Nope. Not at all...

December 12, 2008

Santa, Baby!

Santa visited our living room this evening to check on our cute little tree while on his way to the park's family Christmas party. Pretty cool that he thought to stop by and say hi, huh?

I heard he was a big hit at the party, too. Although, apparently he has replaced one of his reindeer. During a reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", jolly old St. Nick had a little trouble with the pronunciations. Yep, if you listen carefully you'll notice that one of Santa's regulars has been replaced with a rather spicy second stringer.

December 11, 2008

Just up the Road

This afternoon I decided to drive a few miles up the road and take advantage of the gorgeous weather for a little photography. It's been a while since I've been up that way, which is rather unfortunate, really. Particularly considering I only had to drive for about ten minutes to get these pictures.

So here's what Glacier National Park looked like this afternoon.

The Bucket List

Because I can never resist a good meme, and because I like to do everything that Patrick at the HawkOwlsNest does, here's another fun post (although I changed the name of it to something cooler).

If you want to participate, too, just copy the list, bold the things that you've done and feel free to add comments like I did. Let me know if you post it on your blog. And because it's difficult to determine which ones are bold and which ones aren't, I've put an asterisk in front of all those I bolded.

*1. Started your own blog
*2. Slept under the stars (I even convinced Sonja to try it once...without a tent out in the desert of New Mexico).
*3. Played in a band (5th-8th grade: trumpet; 9th grade through 3 years of college: tuba)
*4. Visited Hawaii (One of the best, and cheapest, vacations we've ever taken)
*5. Watched a meteor shower (see #2)
*6. Given more than you can afford to charity
*7. Been to Disneyland/world (both)
*8. Climbed a mountain (I summitted Long's Peak in Colorado: 14,259')
*9. Held a praying mantis (and I have the pictures to prove it)
*10. Sang/played a solo (believe it or not, I actually had a tuba solo in the brass quintet I played in during my junior year at the U of North Dakota)
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
*14. Taught yourself an art from scratch (I've been drawing since I could hold a pencil)
15. Adopted a child
*16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty (been to the top of the Empire State Building, though...which is almost as cool)
*18. Grown your own vegetables (and they were huge Alaskan vegetables!)
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
*20. Slept on an overnight train (just did that last month, actually)
*21. Had a pillow fight
*22. Hitch hiked (in Switzerland, after missing the last bus to to ride in a posh Mercedes)
*23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill (uh, I mean of course not!)
*24. Built a snow fort
*25. Held a lamb
*26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
*29. Seen a total eclipse (lunar only...although I'm planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park in 2011 for the full solar eclipse that summer!)
*30. Watched a sunrise or sunset (I'm a park ranger. We get paid in sunsets!)
*31. Hit a home run (and it was in a real game, too! Of course, it was a city league in Seward, Alaska, but that still counts. It was an in-the-field homer, though...never knocked one over the fence, before)
*32. Been on a cruise (many whale/glacier watching cruises for work up at Kenai Fjords, and a three day ride on the Alaska Marine Highway)
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
*34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (well, I've been close anyway. Went to Germany and Austria when I thought that's where we came from. I learned recently that we're mostly Hungarian, but I'm still gonna count it)
35. Seen an Amish community
*36. Taught yourself a new language (does Klingon count? nuqDaq ta' SoH pol yuch? Translation: Where do you keep the chocolate?)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (gotta be honest with this one)
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
*39. Gone rock climbing (I was a regular Spiderman for a few years back in the mid-90's)
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person
*41. Sung karaoke (unfortunately, for those listening)
*42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
*43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant (we recently bought pie for a couple that gave us a ride to our car on the Going to the Sun Road)
44. Visited Africa (I'll be able to check this one off soon, I hope!)
*45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted (drawn, yes. Painted, no)
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
*51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling (both, in Hawaii)
*52. Kissed in the rain
*53. Played in the mud
*54. Gone to a drive-in theater (saw E.T in the drive-in...and there's even a working one only 15 minutes from our new house! I know what we're doing next summer!)
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
*57. Started a business (does CafePress count??)
*58. Taken a martial arts class (the only Western martial art: fencing!)
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
*62. Gone whale watching (even in a kayak!)
*63. Gotten flowers for no reason
*64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving (always wanted to)
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp (I'm still kicking myself that I didn't visit one while in Germany)
*67. Bounced a check (uhhh...)
*68. Flown in a helicopter (as a helicopter pilot, I think the answer is most definitely, yes)
*69. Saved a favorite childhood toy (Grampa Dog is still kicking around on my dresser)
*70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
*73. Stood in Times Square (attended a musical on Broadway, too. I took Sonja to see 'Rent' for her birthday one year)
74. Toured the Everglades
*75. Been fired from a job (I guess I'm not a very good car washer)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
*77. Broken a bone
*78. Been on a speeding motorcycle (once, in Alaska...but don't tell Sonja)
*79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person (hiked down into the Grand Canyon, too...which is way more impressive)
80. Published a book (always wanted to try writing one, though)
81. Visited the Vatican
*82. Bought a brand new car (Our little Subaru that could! I love Gilbert...)
83. Walked in Jerusalem
*84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible (Are you kidding? I grew up Catholic...of course I haven't!)
86. Visited the White House (not inside...although I'm going to try to get a tour in January when I'm in DC for President Obama's inauguration)
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
*88. Had chickenpox
*89. Saved someone’s life (sorta...although, truth be told I'm the one whose idea it was to try traversing the cliff with our big backpacks on in the first place)
90. Sat on a jury (almost...I was able to convince the judge to let me go)
*91. Met someone famous (Jane Goodall)
92. Joined a book club
*93. Lost a loved one
94. Made a baby
*95. Seen the Alamo in person (even looked for the basement...didn't find it)
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake (seen it several times)
*97. Been involved in a law suit (currently in one....I hate insurance companies)
*98. Owned a cell phone
*99. Been stung by a bee
*100. Gotten a speeding ticket (but not for at least ten years!)

December 10, 2008

Giving of the Thanks

Well, I've officially been guilted into finally posting some pictures from Thanksgiving in Minnesota. I was hoping that I'd at least beat my little brother to the punch, but no such luck. So, here they completely random order.

And because those of you "in the know" already know who everyone is, while those of you not, you know, "in the know," don't really care, I will, I have decided, in addition, you may note, to using an obscene amount of commas, all properly placed, according to Microsoft Word, version 2007, I might add, not add, beneath, above, or otherwise, any commentary about them. Impressed much? I am.

Ahem, anyway...

A Witness to History

Sonja and I are now faced with a decision. Do we want to be witnesses to history?

Yesterday I got an email from Senator Jon Tester's (D-MT) office. See, the day after the election I had emailed Montana's junior Senator requesting to be placed on a waiting list for inaugural tickets. Well, apparently my timing was perfect.

Because I now have two tickets for President Barack Obama's Inauguration Ceremony.

This may be one of the most historic inaugurations ever. Sure, every Presidential inauguration is historic, but only insofar as the potential each President has to make an impact. But for the first time since George Washington (or perhaps Andrew Jackson, as the first President sworn in at the U.S. Capitol building (pictured above)), the inauguration itself is an unprecedented event that will forever be noted in the history books.

I'm already travelling to the DC area at the end of January for work, and we have a D.C. friend who has offered us their futon if we choose to go. So, really, all we'd have to do is get a plane ticket for Sonja (something I think we will need to do very, very soon if we decide to go). It's definitely not out of the question.

But at the same time, I've already had offers to purchase these tickets from me. I'm still torn about that, since I'm of the mind that an event like this should be accessible to all Americans, not just those with tons of cash. Then again, ol' Dubya has repeatedly asked all of us to be "good capitalists" and spend, spend, spend. Ha...

Seriously, though, if you have any ideas for me please share them. I expect we'll make our decision within the next day or so, but would welcome any advice.

December 06, 2008

It's a Girl!

We have a new addition in our menagerie, a pretty little Peach-faced Lovebird. I never considered owning one of these tiny African parrots, but we couldn't pass up the price (free!). Here she is, waiting for me to bring my finger closer so she can take a chunk out of it (I never knew lovebirds were carnivorous). Luna's already nearly had her nose pierced.

She is, shall we say, a bit feisty? I have a feeling it may take a while before she warms up to us (I'm thinking at least a year). From what I've read, it can be quite a challenge to tame an adult lovebird. It doesn't really matter though. She's already part of the family. We just have one decision left to make, and I thought you all could help out with that one.

December 04, 2008

Gorillas in the Congo

As I'm sure many of you know, during the last several months Congalese rebels have been stepping up their attacks along the remote eastern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition to the tragic human suffering and massive exodus of refugees trying to escape the violence, there is another victim being threatened. The critically endangered mountain gorillas, of which only 740 remain in existence (there are no mountain gorillas in zoos...only lowland gorillas), inhabit the area that is at the epicenter of this conflict. In fact, the rebels recently siezed control of the headquarters for Virunga National Park, one of only two protected areas in the world where mountain gorillas can be found.

Many people have been rightfully concerned that the violence will devastate the few remaining gorilla families. But just last week park rangers made a hopeful discovery on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes: five healthy baby gorillas and a family thriving in the midst of chaos.

The following video was shot by these rangers as they were conducting a gorilla census last Friday. The images brought a smile to my face and thought they might for you, as well...

Sonja and I are in the beginning stages of planning our trip to East Africa, an adventure we hope to undertake within the next year or so. The highlight of this trip will be a trek into the Parc National des Volcans, located in Rwanda, to spend an hour with a family of gorillas. This video makes me hopeful that the fate of one of the planet's most critically endangered has not already been decided.

December 02, 2008

November 19, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Glacier National Park
Photo taken this morning by Sonja

November 16, 2008

San Diego

A couple weeks ago I traveled to San Diego for a friend's wedding. I've been meaning to post some photos from my trip for a while now and am finally getting around to it.

A San Diego sunset

Harbor seals and a Ruddy Turnstone

Brown Pelican and Heerman's Gull



Sand dollar in the surf

Marbled Godwits on the beach

November 06, 2008

I'm a Bit Jealous

Ok, so I must admit, I'm a bit jealous. Working in the office I find it easy to forget that we live in one of the world's most beautiful places. But Sonja doesn't have that problem. She gets reminded of it every single day. Take the above scene, for instance. That was Sonja's "office" today. Not fair.

I know, I shouldn't complain. All I have to do is step outside and breath the crisp mountain air and gaze up at the mountains surrounding park headquarters to remember that I get to live and work here, too. But I don't get to see things like that every day.

I also don't get to check out grizzly bear tracks, or watch Golden Eagles soaring overhead, or scan the cliffs for sheep and goats, or any of the other cool things Sonja gets to do.

It's not that I'm complaining about my job, really. I just have to work a bit harder to make sure that I can take advantage of the amazing resources this place has to offer.

And honestly, just knowing that Sonja gets to see goats standing on a snowy (and empty) Going to the Sun Road on a regular basis makes me really happy. I mean, seriously, check out the pantaloons on this guy! It's awesome!