Monday, June 29, 2009

Blue Grosbeaks in SoCal

Blue Grosbeak, calling
A recent trip to southern California wasn't exactly timed all that well with regards to birding, past the prime migration periods of April and early May, but I needed the airline miles and the travel (having not hit the road at all since last November for a business trip), and the price was right.

Thanks to the Orange County birders listserv, I managed to track down some good photographic opportunities even in the off-season, including a few which weren't even in my SoCal birding guide, such as a stop at Riley Wilderness Park in Cota de Caza, where I photographed several great Blue Grosbeaks. Now, these are birds we get on the east coast, too; I've seen them at Huntley Meadows Park in the D.C. area. But I didn't have any particularly good photos of these beautiful birds until my SoCal birding trip.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I've Always Wanted to Hike the Appalachian Trail (But Not That Way!)

How many of us, upon hearing initially of South Carolina Governor Sanford's disappearance over Father's Day weekend thought, "He's got a mistress," particularly as the story became more and more bizarre?

First no one knew where he was, then aides suggested he'd gone hiking on the Appalachian trail, then reports began surfacing that he'd been at the airport. And then it turned out he'd been in Argentina (driving along the coast, yeah, riiiiight-o) on the spur of the moment, shortly before the inevitable revelation by yet another Republican golden child that he'd in fact broken the sanctity of marriage? (A sanctity that according to many of those same conservatives that only heterosexual couples can properly practice--note to the OED: consider the lumbering elephant as an icon accompanying the definition of "irony," will you?)

Is the new euphemism for a extramarital tryst going to become "hiking the Appalachian Trail?"

Mind you, I do enjoy the Appalachian Trail, or at least the small portion of it I've enjoyed near Dragon's Tooth in southwest Virginia. And no, it's not "that kind" of Appalachian Trail hiking, either.

View from Dragon's Tooth
(And my sincere apologies for the quality of this photo; I took it when I first became interested in digital photography. I have a few better prints around, but haven't scanned them in yet.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Celebrating Several Anniversaries

Today marks several anniversaries.

Beth and I met at a dessert party on June 21, 2002.

We held our wedding on June 21, 2005.

And we first looked at the home that would become Chateau Papillon on June 21, 2008.

It's also often the first day of summer, the Summer Solstice, come June 21.

Not a bad set of celebrations, eh?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rain, Rain: GO AWAY!

The next time I hear someone say, "But we need this rain!" I believe I may just punch him in the mouth.

We absolutely do not need any more rain. Yes, February and March were very dry (if I recall correctly, February was the driest on record for our area), but since then, we've made up for it with a vengeance. Beginning in mid-to-late April, there was a span where we had rain nearly every day, and May clocked in as the sixth wettest on record for the Washington area, with several record rainfall days at Dulles and National airports. The drought conditions of the nascent year had been erased well before the end of May.

June now finds us nearly five inches above normal levels of rain for the year, with June itself more than double the normal amount of rain. If you remove the week of relatively clear weather we had in mid-June (miraculously, given that areas around us continued to receive rain every day), that double-normal rain has happened in just over a quarter of the month.

We've had to put off several bits of yard work; the ground is just too soggy even after a few clear days. Poison ivy has gone wild with all the rain. I can't do good photography with the totally overcast skies and dim light levels. The dogs get incredibly messy going out into the muddy, squishy yard. Our dehumidifier is working overtime. Mold abounds outside; orange halves placed on the oriole feeder mildew within a day, and it's allergy central outdoors. Mosquitoes are rampant. More than once, I've had to rescue plants nearly washed away in the yard, and our mulch has been spread around by tidal-esque surges of heavy rain.

It's been raining pretty much all morning, too, after rain off and on the past few days. No chance of yard work today, and likely tomorrow's out as well even if it manages to clear up; the ground will just be too soaked and squishy underfoot.

Enough, already! Rain, rain: go away! You're not wanted anymore. At least give us some summer, since we didn't get much of a spring.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Revised Chateau Papillon Bird List: 51 Species

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Now that we're well into the summer season for birding (with summer's official start only a couple of days away), I felt it a good time to provide an updated bird list for Chateau Papillon. We made our goal of 50 species--with a Wood Thrush I've heard several times but not yet seen taking the 50th slot--and added a 51st (a Brown Thrasher feeding in our expanded "natural area" of mulch) just this morning.
  1. Bluebird, Eastern
  2. Bunting, Indigo
  3. Cardinal, Northern
  4. Catbird, Grey
  5. Chickadee, Carolina
  6. Cowbird, Brown
  7. Creeper, Brown
  8. Crow, American
  9. Crow, Fish
  10. Dove, Mourning
  11. Finch, House
  12. Finch, Purple
  13. Flicker, Northern
  14. Flycatcher, Great Crested
  15. Goldfinch, American
  16. Goose, Canada
  17. Grackle, Common
  18. Grosbeak, Rose-breasted
  19. Hawk, Cooper's
  20. Hawk, Red-shouldered
  21. Hawk, Red-tailed
  22. Hummingbird, Ruby-throated
  23. Jay, Blue
  24. Junco, Dark-eyed
  25. Kingbird, Eastern
  26. Mallard
  27. Mockingbird, Northern
  28. Nuthatch, White-breasted
  29. Owl, Barred
  30. Phoebe, Eastern
  31. Robin, American
  32. Siskin, Pine
  33. Sparrow, Chipping
  34. Sparrow, Fox
  35. Sparrow, House
  36. Sparrow, Song
  37. Sparrow, White-crowned
  38. Sparrow, White-throated
  39. Starling, European
  40. Thrasher, Brown
  41. Thrush, Wood
  42. Titmouse, Tufted
  43. Towhee, Eastern
  44. Vulture, Turkey
  45. Waxwing, Cedar
  46. Woodpecker, Downy
  47. Woodpecker, Hairy
  48. Woodpecker, Pileated
  49. Woodpecker, Red-bellied
  50. Wren, Carolina
  51. Wren, House
Though we haven't had the time to construct a water feature (nor the cooperation of the weather; Nature seems to think our whole yard should be a water feature these days!), I do expect we'll add a few more during the fall migration (to start in a month or two), including perhaps some tanagers attracted to our dogwood berries.

Brown ThrasherHopefully by next spring, we'll have something of a pond ready and will attract several warbler species (I'd expect at a minimum Yellow-rumped, perhaps some Northern or Louisiana Waterthrushes, and likely several upper-level migrators like the American Redstart), as well as some herons. Confirming a Yellow-breasted Sapsucker would also be nice, as it's really the only other woodpecker I'd expect to find in our yard's habitat. Winter could bring us a Redpoll or two, and I'm curious about some faint owl hoots I've heard of late which don't seem to be those of the Barred Owl we've heard before. Heck, summer could itself bring us another bird or two, such as some arial displays by Common Nighthawks.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Bluebirds Go for Clutch #2

After suffering through one of the rainiest and dreariest Mays on record, our back yard bluebirds have started their second clutch of the year. Bluebirds often will lay eggs up to three times in a given year, starting on subsequent nests almost immediately after the young from their previous one have fledged.

Although only one of the first clutch's five eggs hatched, we're hopeful that this time around, with more cooperative summer weather, our bluebird couple of Eloise and Nathaniel will enjoy greater success. Within a day of baby "Harry" fledging, Eloise had already begun a nest in our other bluebird box, but when Beth removed the first nest, she returned to that box as her favored location and soon had a new nest constructed. (It's very important to remove nests between clutches, as the previous nest can attract ants and harbor bacteria from any unremoved droppings, etc.; the birds know this and will choose another site if the first nest remains.)

As of this morning, there were four eggs in the new nest. More to come...