Sunday Confessional: learning curve

Historically, technology and I have maintained an uneasy relationship that borders on adversarial. Which is why it was quite a shock when last December, I spontaneously decided to purchase a drawing tablet which would require learning new software.

Big surprise, I became discouraged fairly quickly. Because not only was it all new to me, I was trying to learn while dealing with vision issues. Rather than push on through, I set aside the whole endeavor until this past week.

Unfortunately, the learning curve hadn’t magically disappeared. I found many YouTube tutorials on various aspects of Krita (free, open source software) and began learning things. A few things. I called upon Zippy to watch the one on removing backgrounds from images and we worked together to figure it out. It was a boost to my self-esteem to find out he also struggled to understand just what in the hell was involved in the process. Still, at the end of yesterday’s session I was exhausted and demoralized: all those hours and I still didn’t really know how to do what I wanted.

Today, I had an epiphany. Rather than view Krita as a problem to be conquered, I switched my perspective. Krita and I were allies! Krita was there to help me bring my creative visions to life! I won’t lie . . . I still felt discouraged at times today, but I also relaxed into the process. And now I’m proud to present my very first creation:

The Halcyon image is from footiechic on Pixabay and I hope that stunning bird is happy in the little setting I created. I’m grateful for it’s presence.

Thankful, mostly

After staying safe and healthy for the past 2-plus years, Zippy has Covid and is quarantining in our home. I’ve done two rapid tests that came back negative and this morning felt good enough to do a 4-mile run. That’s very good news. The other very good news is Zippy no longer has a fever (his temperature was 101 on Tuesday when he tested positive). The bad news is I am very much aware that a “mild” case of Covid can cause long-term health issues and am trying hard not to think about the possibility of Long Covid.

Which is why I was exceedingly grateful to be able to run today. It was my first run since the BolderBoulder and I ran up our street to the trailhead, eager to be in my happy place again. About fifteen feet in, there was a broken robin’s eggshell in the middle of the trail. No sign of a nest or baby robins, but that bright blue shell was my first bird-related sighting. A few minutes later, four magpies few over head as another flapped-flapped-flapped to catch up. Farther along the trail, Spotted Towhees sang “sweet-sweet-teeaaaaa.” Later, a Western Meadowlark sang from its perch on a rabbitbrush. Absolute bliss.

But that wasn’t all: a bunny ran across the trail right in front of me! Insects chirped! Several other runners and hikers passed with dogs happy to be out on adventures! A good day to be alive.

There was some sadness, though. For the past couple months, I’ve checked a little round cactus at the turnaround spot, hoping to see signs of life. Hoping it was only temporarily dormant. Today I had to face reality and admit it will never bloom again. Fortunately, Zippy photographed it for me years ago so I have documentation of it in all its prickly and pink glory. Here it is again:

Thank you for the joy you brought me over the years, little cactus. You won’t be forgotten.

Twofer Tuesday: antelope edition

Last week after leaving the Crow Valley Campground, we drove the 21-mile Birding Tour in the Pawnee National Grasslands. Alas, due to strong winds and dust, there weren’t a whole lot of birds out and about (aside from a huge number of Horned Larks which we’d never seen before plus some hawks on the ground that were too far away to identify).

However, we were gifted with antelope sightings. This small herd ran away from us as we sat idling on the road way far away from them. It seems antelope do not take any chances and will bolt at the first sign of danger.

April 21, 2022

And here they are after reaching a distance far enough away to feel safe. They stopped and wheeled around to watch us.

The scenery for that entire bumpy drive on the gravel roads was brown-brown-brown and we constantly scanned for movement. My (hopeful) eyes were often tricked into believing I saw running antelope, but it was almost always tumbling tumbleweeds blowing across the desolate landscape. Those tumbleweeds moved very quickly and I would’ve loved to see one blowing alongside the running antelope in order to compare speeds.

The antelope, though, brought me the most joy. No contest.

New week

We had a corvid-rich weekend. It began on Saturday with lots and lots of crows as we walked around a unfamiliar neighborhood (after Emma was too agitated at sight of other dogs in the park we’d gone to for a walk). Multiple flocks of crows flying overhead then perching in various trees. They brought many smiles.

Then yesterday morning, we were in our front yard when a flock of crows flew past. But that wasn’t all. Moments later, this raven perched in the tree across the street for several minutes, making its croaking sound.

Photo by Zippy. March 13, 2022

Today is the first day of a new week. My goal is to embody this raven’s energy, looking ahead to new opportunities and experiences. Courageous in the face of whatever life brings.

Thankful Thursday: out my window

It means even more to me than usual to have winged visitors to my yard. Because I’m currently stuck in a walking boot, I haven’t been venturing out much at all. So, today I dedicate my gratitude to these four birds, in the order in which they appeared.

First up, is a House Finch that immediately flew to the bath right after I’d cleaned and filled it this morning:

Moments later, this Red-breasted Nuthatch came for a drink:

Then another male House Finch posed in the maple tree:

And this afternoon, while taking a break from revisions, I spotted a radiant Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay:

It’s only Day 4 of my walking-boot-sentence and the Herman Munster clomp-clomp-clomp is already wearing thin. All gratitude for birds!

Twofer Tuesday: feathered friends

This Red-winged Blackbird and Mourning Dove shared a tree as the sun went down on our first day of camping in Moby, the Great White campervan, in late April. We were walking around Lake Hasty (John Martin Reservoir State Park) at the end of a lovely day when I spotted them.

April 28, 2021

We receive many doves (Mourning and Eurasian-collared) here at our backyard feeder, but Red-winged Blackbird sightings are more rare. I have childhood memories of them singing their beautiful song as they perched on cattails along the train tracks.

I’m posting this picture to commemorate the end of our camping season. Yesterday we unloaded Moby in preparation for a trip to the shop to have a pop-top installed. Next year, we’ll be able to stand up inside. Can’t wait to get back out there to bask in the glories of the natural world.

Monday mishmash

Ever since I ran on the trails Saturday, looking in vain for blooming thistles amongst all the brown and mostly-dead foliage, I keep thinking back to the thistles’ prickly displays in June. So, today I’m posting one from that beautiful day when the open space was ablaze with colors.

June 24, 2021

Yesterday evening, I met outdoors with Sunrise Movement friends whom I hadn’t seen since an action last summer outside (now Senator) Hickenlooper’s house. It was both lovely and bittersweet because another friend who was supposed to also be there had to remain in Minnesota to wait for her friend to get out of jail after being arrested (along with ~69 others) for protesting the Line 3 pipeline.  We had all sorts of emotions around that because the friend who was supposed to join us AND her arrested friend had been jailed in Denver with us in January 2020 (shout-out to M for continuing to be so fierce!)

Rather than go the conventional route and post people pics from our gathering, I’ll share not-great photos of the Great Horned Owl that serenaded us as we sat in the middle of an elementary school field. (I know how that sounds, but it was actually a pretty good setting, right up until the sprinklers came on and sprayed me and my stuff.)

Not sure whether the white patch in the photo above is a mouse dangling from the owl’s beak or just part of the groovy blurring effects.

And so I don’t leave on a carnivorous note, here’s one more random image for Monday Mishmash of the dandelion puffball Zippy brought inside for me today.

Wishing everyone a good week . . .

 

Thankful Thursday: focusing on fun

A friend who knows my love of birds passed along this 500-piece puzzle after she’d put it together. I started working on it late last night. First, I turned all the pieces right-side-up on the table and took a quick pic which I texted to her with “Let the puzzling begin!”

Her reply: “I hope you don’t get addicted like I did and have a hard time stopping.” 😬

I told her not to worry, that even if I did get addicted, it was fine by me.

Welp, I spent more time today working on this puzzle than attending to most other things on my To Do list. But it felt good for my brain and mental health, so I don’t begrudge the distraction. Plus, it’s birds!

A sparrow in four acts

Last month we camped at Cow Creek South Campground along the shores of Green Mountain Reservoir. Apparently, it’s wonderful habitat for White-crowned Sparrows but not so much other species (I don’t remember seeing anything else). We heard and saw these dapper sparrows an awful lot and I was positive their lovely songs/calls would be forever bonded in my memory. Alas, I couldn’t tell you now what they sound like. But I loved listening to them and had a wonderful time photographing them.

My first attempt didn’t yield a great photo:

July 9, 2021

 

My next attempt yielded better lighting, but this one seemed determined to hide its identity.

A moment later, I was rewarded with a lovely shot.

This may or may not be the same bird, but it clearly had had enough of the paparazzi and fled my camera range.

 

—————————————————
From All About Birds (text below + recordings from New Mexico):
SONGS
The song of the White-crowned Sparrow Is one of the most-studied sounds in all of animal behavior. Different subspecies across the country sing clearly different songs, but they’re all recognizable by the sweet, whistling introduction, a succession of jumbled whistles, and a buzz or trill near the end. Songs last 2-3 seconds. Females sing only rarely.

CALLS
White-crowned Sparrows have about 10 different calls. The most frequently heard include a sharp pink, lower-pitched than the White-throated Sparrow’s call. It’s usually made by males or as an alarm call near the nest. They also make a harsh, rasping call used by sparrows during altercations.
—————————————————–

Ah yes, now I remember: pink, pink.
I might not recognize the songs and calls next time, but I’m pretty confident I can identify this sparrow when I see it again. 🙂

 

Twofer Tuesday: National Nature Photography Day edition

Because of Amy Law’s beautiful post, I learned today is National Nature Photography Day. But it’s also Tuesday, which means I need to do it up twofer-style.

First up are a Western Kingbird and Black-capped Chickadee:

April 29, 2021

April 8, 2021

Next are two trees I can’t identify except that one appears dead and the other is maybe not-so-dead?

Jackson Lake SP. May 27, 2021

John Martin Reservoir SP. April 28, 2021

Lastly, I can’t forget my love for ponds:

Sawhill Ponds. May 6, 2021

Uncompahgre National Forest. July 29, 2019

Obviously, these aren’t the most professional photos. However, they’re a good sampling of my aesthetic.

Hip-hip-hooray for nature!

Sunday Confessional: all birded out

I’ve about had all the bird drama I can stand for a while. There’s a scrub jay nest in our across-the-street neighbor’s pine tree and when Zippy and I returned from our run on Friday, we heard a cacophony in that yard. A fluffy white and gray cat (often seen roaming the neighborhood) was being dive-bombed by screeching scrub jays. Why? The cat had a fledgling in its mouth. I screamed and ran at the cat who dropped the baby bird and ran away. While Zippy stood guard over the stunned bird, I ran across the street to our house and looked up the closest bird rescue site. “Temporarily closed.”

I did a little more research and determined it would be okay to put on gloves to pick up the bird. So that’s what Zippy did and then placed the baby in a shoebox lined with an old t-shirt. We couldn’t spot the nest so he stuck the box up in the tree, wedged between branches, as the parents watched.

Adult Western/Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, probably one of the parental units.   June 13, 2021

A while later, the cat returned and this time I kept following it. It crossed the street, nervously checking over its shoulder, again and again, to see if the angry woman had given up. When another neighbor told me where the cat lived, I went to that house. No answer. Throughout the day, Zippy and I checked out our windows to see if the cat had returned. We didn’t see it again.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, just as Wildebeest and I returned from walking Emma, there was another raucous uproar in the neighbor’s yard. This time, the fluffy white cat sat calmly (no bird in mouth) as the parent jays dive-bombed it. Again, I ran  at the cat and chased it away. After another no-answer when I rang the cat’s home doorbell, I went home and wrote a very civil note, explaining the situation and asking that the cat be kept inside.

We haven’t seen the cat at all today. I did, however, see the fledgling on the ground presumably after testing its wings again. It seemed fine. Fast forward six hours. As I sat reading, I heard yelling and yelping. I ran outside and heard the next-door neighbor say “baby bird.”

This time, the unfortunate little fledgling had the bad luck to end up in Rainbow‘s yard.

Rainbow frolicking on December 18, 2021

The good news is that when Rainbow’s human yelled for her to drop the bird, Rainbow listened.** Zippy again donned the gloves, caught the baby who was much more feisty this time, set it in another box I’d prepared, and wedged it in the tree as the parents watched.

I’ve never wanted to be able to fly (possibly related to my fear of heights), but I’m wishing very, very hard for that little scrub jay to soar overhead. The sooner the better.

** Especially good news in light of the fact our neighbor believes she inadvertently adopted a “serial killer” when she adopted Rainbow. Recent victims include a chicken and a prairie dog.

A perfect maiden voyage

We returned yesterday evening from our trip to John Martin Reservoir State Park.  We had a glorious time and I highly recommend visiting this park. We spent zero time at the reservoir, but explored Lake Hasty which is below the dam and also hiked the Red Shin Trail. Yesterday morning I was up at 7:00 (quite early for me) and ran around the lake (and then again in reverse). The sun was shining as the geese honked and the ducks quacked and paddled. I grinned pretty much the whole three miles.

When we’d first arrived at tree-filled Lake Hasty Campground late afternoon on Wednesday, a couple Turkey Vultures casually flew overhead. Then my attention-deficit kicked in because there were SO MANY BIRD SOUNDS. I immediately got out my binoculars and Sibley, but as soon as I began to focus on one bird/sound I was distracted by another. After a while, I began feeling overwhelmed by my ignorance ** and Zippy suggested a walk around the lake. Good call. The light was incredible and I just drank it all in.

Lake Hasty

Tons of Cliff Swallows were swooping above the water and along the shoreline. I took loads of photos, many of which were photo-bombed by swallows.

Red-winged Blackbird & Mourning Dove plus fly-by Cliff Swallow

We eventually made our way back to the campsite as a few vultures floated overhead. Then I noticed something: vultures in the trees around our site. We watched in awe as one after another floated down and into the trees, their wings sounding like crinkling paper as they touched the branches.

I count eleven Turkey Vultures in this photo.

About twenty vultures roosted above us all night. We felt honored. The next evening, we returned from our lake excursion in time for me to set up the camera and tripod. We waited quietly. Two vultures settled into a tree next to us and then . . . nothing. About three minutes later, they took off. Guess they headed off to find out where the rest of the gang was roosting. Won’t lie, it was a disappointment. But expecting two nights of turkey vultures might be a bit greedy. Best to share the wealth.

** I spent the final morning focusing on birds — sights and sounds — without worrying about the camera, and made progress. I identified a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle variation) and felt immense satisfaction. I’m now going through my many poor quality photos of ducks on the water, seeing if there’s enough detail for identifications. I’ve found a Horned Grebe and a Blue-winged Teal. Woot!

#Snowpocalypse Now

All week, those of us in Colorado were bombarded with forecasts for an epic snowstorm. The forecasts frequently changed (regarding intensity, snowfall, start time, etc.) and during one 45-minute period in which Zippy checked three times, he read three different forecasts. The whole situation began to feel a bit hyperbolic.** That’s no longer the case.

View out my front window about 4:45 p.m. on March 14, 2021

The birds are doing their best to weather the storm, including these two Northern Flickers clinging to the telephone pole and three American Robins hunkered down in a Russian Olive tree:

         

Photo quality is poor due to the swirling snow covering windows on all four sides of the house. (Full disclosure: my windows were already smudged by cats and dog).

Drought-stricken Colorado definitely needs moisture so I’m not complaining, especially since I’m warm and safe inside. I realize how very fortunate I am.

** My favorite tweet from the week (@PhosphoSolution):

 

 

Creeping on a Creeper

As I hoop-danced this morning, I watched various nuthatches and a squirrel visit the peanut feeder hanging in the tree outside the window. And then I noticed another bird moving up and down the tree trunk. The elusive Brown Creeper!

I stepped out of the spin and grabbed my camera, hoping I’d finally get a decent photo of that beautiful bird that never stops moving.
     

   

Definitely not high-quality captures, but these photos are documentation of the morning I paused my happy hoop-dancing session to stalk a Brown Creeper.

Sunday Confessional: played by a hawk

The other day, I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a hawk on the power line. It turned out to be a Cooper’s Hawk and I remained still to admire it, knowing from experience how quickly predator birds will leave the wire. But after a couple minutes, I decided to take a chance and went for my camera.

January 22, 2021

January 22, 2021

I went to a closer window and took a bunch of photos that looked to be pretty good. The entire time, the hawk stayed right where it was on the wire, head turning as it scanned the ground  in all directions.

Satisfied with my still shots, I changed the camera settings in preparation for the hawk taking flight. I’d had enough of my many blurred, out-of-focus shots of birds in flight. This time, I’d be ready.

I stood at the window and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Eventually, I went back to the kitchen to make my smoothie, glancing out the window every now and again. The hawk remained. I took my smoothie and stood by the sliding glass door, the camera around my neck. Set to capture motion.

The hawk started turning to his/her right to look directly at me. I raised the camera to my eye and waited. Nothing. I decided to take a quick photo of it glaring at me and so changed the settings. Yep. That’s when the hawk decided to take flight.

I yelled and then laughed. Played by a hawk.