July 30, 2008

Time for Some Campaignin'

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Hike China

With the Olympics just a few days away I thought it would be interesting to ponder what backpacking around China might be like. Well, here's a guy that wondered the same thing after seeing an email containing some rather improbably photographs of a "trail" in central China classified as the "world's most dangerous".

Here's a great video of what he saw when he travelled to China to learn for himself the truth of this provocative email forward:

Someday we'll hike that trail!

July 25, 2008

Arizona Monsoon and a Spider

The monsoon activity this season has been particularly colorful, with lots of fun fireworks. Here's a sample of images from last night's storm system.

The lightning was concentrated just over the horizon, so my attempts at capturing a nice bolt weren't quite as successful as I'd hoped. These pictures remind me more of some of the scenes from the recent "War of the Worlds" movie than anything else. I kept expecting one of the machines to rise up over the ridge at any moment.

After the storm we had a visitor to our back step. Might be our last tarantula before we leave in a little over a week.

July 24, 2008

McCain's Also a Liar!

Either that or:

1) He's already as senile as Ronald Reagan was when he left office; or,

2) He's as big a moron as the current Idiot-in-Chief.

Just watch...

July 22, 2008

McCain is a Traitor!

I decided to find out what the networks were saying about Obama's trip overseas, so I turned on the CBS Evening News. There I saw Katie Couric interviewing both Obama and Senator McCain. And I must tell you I was SHOCKED when I saw McCain. There he was, sitting in New Hampshire, condescending smile spreading across his ancient, wrinkley features, when I noticed something missing from his lapel. No American flag pin.

He's refusing to wear an American flag lapel pin! Can you believe the audacity of this traitor?!? How dare he show himself in public without draping himself in red, white and blue?!? Don't believe me? Here's the proof (click the image for a larger version):

It's disgusting. I can't believe he still calls himself an American. If this isn't proof that he hates America, I don't know what is!

. . .

. . .

. . .

See how ridiculous that sounds? It's an ugly, stupid, tacky lapel pin that demonstrates absolutely nothing about how patriotic or unpatriotic someone is. And what's with the double-standard? If the media is determined to hold Obama's feet to the fire on such a meaningless triviality, they should do the same for McCain.

Speaking of which, I was appalled watching Katie Couric's interviews with Obama and McCain on CBS Evening News this weekend. She was playing hardball with Obama left and right, throwing him different variations of the same damn question trying to force him to screw up (which he didn't, by the way. tee hee!).

Meanwhile, she lobs stupid softball questions to McCain like, "You seem frustrated with Senator Obama. Why?" and "Why do you think Obama doesn't think the surge is working?" It was laughable, really. And no different than the coddling way the press has treated Bush for the last seven years.

Katie Couric should be ashamed of herself. How she can justify calling herself a journalist after that blatant display of pandering to the whining right-wingers ("boo hoo, Obama is getting all the press, I want my mommy!") is beyond me.

I encourage anyone who prefers intelligent, honest and responsible journalism to boycott CBS "News" until they hire a journalist who has a little integrity.

July 21, 2008

Fire in the Sky

The monsoon is in full swing now, which means that the evening skies tend to be filled with storm clouds. I glanced outside about an hour ago and everything had a subdued orange tint, not that different than what it was like in Fairbanks when the city was shrouded in wildfire smoke. No wildfires tonight, though. Just a brilliant sunset illuminating the monsoon storms.

And behind our house was this monster cell. Although it looks more menacing than I think it actually is. We only spotted one flash of lightning in the 30 minutes we were outside with the dogs.

My task over the next two weeks is to try to capture some pictures of some of the lightning storms that we get, like this guy did.

I was playing around with the flash on our way back to the house this evening and got this photo of Sonja (the ghostly figure standing to the right of the yield sign) with Harvey and Luna. I thought it was interesting that Harvey's eyes glow orange, while Luna's glow green. Cool, huh?

July 13, 2008

¡Viva la Mexico!

Because we will be leaving Arizona at the beginning of August, we thought it was about time we ventured south of the border. Besides, Sonja had never been there and we just couldn't justify living in the Grand Canyon State for nearly two years without going to Mexico at least once. We did have another excuse to go, though, since some friends of ours wanted to throw us a party before we left. I mean, how can you pass up free cake and margaritas??

We didn't go very far into Mexico (I think if we had actually measured the distance we traveled from the border fence it wouldn't even come to a quarter mile), but we were officially on the "other side."

That wall is a depressing reminder of the ugly side of our country's immigration issue. It's also a stark reminder that many Americans view our southern neighbors with a great deal of mistrust and more than a little contempt. But the four of us (we went with Andy and Matt, two friends from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument) all had a great time.

At lunch, the very first thing our waiter brought to our table (before any chips, water, or even menus!) was four shots of one of Mexico's most famous commodities. As a result, Sonja got to "enjoy" her first ever shot of tequila! She was actually disappointed to discover that it didn't really taste like much.

As always (sheesh, I've been to Mexico twice now and I make it sound like I go every weekend), the contrast between the American side and the Mexican side of the border was quite pronounced. Not that you can tell from this picture, but everything just "felt" like we were in another country, even when we were standing right next to the wall, with the U.S. just an easy egg toss away. I can't really explain why, but I like it. Not the obvious poverty that surrounds you, of course, but the sensation that you have crossed an imaginary, yet very real boundary between two completely different worlds. It's an experience far too few Americans get to have.

Too bad the experience crossing the other border (the one we'll be moving next to) doesn't provide the same experience. Unless you count the sudden appearance of Tim Horton's on every street corner and poutine on every menu.

Nah, not the same.

July 08, 2008

Madera Revisited...One Last Time

One of things I'm really going to miss about living in Arizona is the (relative) ease with which one can access some of North America's premiere birding hot spots. Take Madera Canyon, for instance. I've been there three times in the last four months and have seen some of the most amazing birds I've ever encountered. Sure, it's a three hour drive to get there. But the payoff is so worth it.

This trip was no different. Sonja had to work which meant I was going it alone. I don't think she minded all that much, though. She seemed to be getting a little tired of driving so far just to go birding. I left home around 3:30am in order to make it to the canyon before the heat of the day. As it turned out, I could have left an hour or two later and had just as much success, considering how quiet it was for the first couple of hours.

The morning started out exciting, though, as I spotted what I thought was one of my three main target species for the day, a White-eared Hummingbird. Alas, my excitement faded as soon as this little guy took to the air and two brilliant white patches appeared on the tip of its tail. Still, it's not often that one gets a chance to admire a Blue-throated Hummingbird, so even though it wasn't a lifer for me I still took the time to enjoy watching it get chased off the feeder by a noisy Black-chinned Hummer.

Another non-lifer I was hoping to see again was Madera Canyon's resident Flame-colored Tanager, particularly because I wanted to try to get a better photograph of it. My last attempt at trying to capture this bird in a photo was less than satisfactory due to the fact that the damn thing refused to leave the very tops of the 30 foot sycamore trees. Things worked out a little better this time around.

After singing his little heart out at the top of a tree (of course), he finally decided to descend a bit and put on a little show for me (I was surprisingly the only birder around for the first hour or so). I did miss my greatest opportunity to snap a picture when he landed no more than ten feet from me. I was so thrilled to see it so close that I sorta forgot I had my camera around my neck.

This one's kind of a weird angle, but I like how it shows off the brilliant plumage that gives this bird its name.

The other bird everyone comes to Madera Canyon to see is another that has never disappointed me (at least not in Madera): the Elegant Trogon.

By the time I heard the trogon's croaking bark in the distance over three hours had elapsed since my arrival and I still hadn't seen any of my target species. As soon as I heard it, though, any disappointment I was starting to feel quickly vanished and I began to focus on simply enjoying the experience of birding in Madera. It's hard not to enjoy it when you get a bird like this looking down at you from just overhead.

Such a cool bird. Seeing (and hearing) him again made the whole trip worthwhile for me.

Four hours in and still no lifers (or so I thought...turns out I wouldn't identify one until I got home Monday night and examined my photos), but I didn't care. I was having a great time relaxing in a lawn chair at one of Madera Canyon's "Birding B&B's" taking photos of the gorgeous Broad-billed Hummingbirds that seemed to be everywhere.

You can't ask for a more photogenic bird than this one. But the excitement of the chase quickly returned when two guys in the chair next to me asked if I was still looking for the one bird I wanted to find more than any that day, the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.

Then they pointed up to a branch overhead. Turns out there was an active nest in a tree no more than 30 feet from where I was sitting.

Not only did I get to see a Sulphur-belly, I got to watch them fly in and out of a nest cavity as they brought an endless supply of bugs to their demanding brood.

But the most exciting bird for me that day was one I hadn't even considered looking for until one of the birders I had been chatting with mentioned that they had seen dozens of them a ways down the road. So, on my way out of the canyon, I made a quick stop at a pull-out and headed down the trail in search of a little bird I really hadn't thought twice about, the Varied Bunting.

None of the pictures I've ever seen of this bird come remotely close to how gorgeous it really is. The deep maroon, violet and indigo of its plumage blend together in a way that is almost indescribable. It was one of the most surprisingly stunning birds I've ever seen.

When the day was done, I left Madera Canyon with three new lifers: Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Varied Bunting, and the Cassin's Vireo I couldn't properly identify until I got home. If those three birds (plus all the others I saw) weren't enough to convince me that the trip was worth it, the Gray Hawk that flew over my car as I was driving through suburban Tucson in search of a gas station most certainly was.

Glacier National Park is going to be an incredible place to live and work, there's no doubt about it. I'll even get to flesh out the grouse section of my life list a bit. But I will most definitely miss the world-class birding we've been able to experience during our time here in Arizona.

July 04, 2008

The Jumping Point

On Monday I went for a hike down a trail not far from our place with a friend from Flagstaff. We hiked the four miles in to a place along Beaver Creek called "The Crack" nice and early to avoid the heat of the day. But we both decided we wanted to get back home by mid-afternoon, which meant turning an easy four-mile walk into a not-so-easy four mile death march in 106 degree temps with little to no shade.

So, to prepare ourselves for what we knew was going to be an unpleasant afternoon, we opted to take one last dip into the creek before hitting the trail. We just happened to be passing by one of the more popular "dipping" spots, too: The Beaver's Tongue (named for its tongue-like shape and the fact that it's perched 18 feet above Beaver Creek, I suppose).

I won't belabor this too much, since it's really not a very interesting story. Suffice to say that jumping off the tongue is not necessarily an easy thing to do the first time...unless you've got balls of steel. Which I don't. Here I am pondering the pending dip.

Note the impressive physique. Yeah, baby. That's what I'm talkin' about!

Anyway, it took me about eight minutes of standing at the edge, staring down into the deep green pool below me before I finally got the nerve to leap off of the ledge.

Ok, so it wasn't so much a "leap" as it was a dorky power-walk off the edge. With a loud and impressively high pitched little girl-like scream accompanying my descent.

You can call me "Grace", thank you very much.

As fun as this looks, the amount of water that shot up my nose made it decidedly less so.