Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Wedding Brings Family and Friends Together

A day later than originally planned (see last blog) Bob and I left our house at 4:25 AM and headed for Pacifico where we would be leaving our car while we went to Tyler, Texas for James and Sharesa's wedding. Our plane left at 6:40 AM, pretty much on time, and we got to DFW around 11:00 AM. We picked up a Chevy Cobalt from Alamo and were on our way. We'd been told that the drive from DFW to Tyler would take about 45 minutes. Wrong! It took nearly two hours. We checked into our motel at 1:00 PM. When we learned that Tyler is a dry town, we drove to Coffee City, about 40 minutes away, for some booze. As it turned out, we never opened the bottle.

After a false start, we headed for Villa Felicita where the wedding rehearsal would be held the next day. It's a very pretty place, inside and out, and is a popular venue for weddings. Our only meeting with the bride had been via Skype, so we were very happy to finally meet the real person. We connected up with friends and family, and then joined the others in helping to decorate the villa according to Sharesa and James's wishes.

After the rehearsal, where we all got to take our positions and practice our lines, we headed for the rehearsal dinner at Villa Montez. We'd been told it was quite close by. It was then that we learned about Texas distances. The bottom line: things are much farther away from one another than one might think. We went back and forth, and round and round on the loop road around Tyler many times that weekend.

About 50 people showed up for the rehearsal dinner, which was held in a wine cellar type of environment. Bob and I, and Lee (my ex) and Mary sponsored the dinner, which turned out to be a very nice affair indeed. We all milled around for a while, enjoying the wine, beer and snacks that were offered, and met members of Sharesa's family and some of her friends.

Production of the dinner was an amazing phenomenon. The in-charge waiter took our orders: filet (cooked to order), chicken, fish (nothing had had to be ordered ahead of time) and before long it was all produced like magic, everything hot and perfectly done. No one could figure out how they managed it.

Sharesa and James had gotten gifts for everyone, a surprise to all, and these were all distributed after dinner.

Our trip back to the hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn, which was very nice, took a different route and didn't take as long as our trip there.

BTW: (By the time we left Tyler, I swore that the Villa Felicita moved from place to place just to confuse us.)

The following day, the wedding day, we were free until 5:00 PM, when pictures would be taken. The bride and others were busy with hair and makeup duties, so Bob and I headed to one of the birding destinations, Lake Tawakoni, that we'd found in the book that friend Bert had loaned us. It was quite a distance away, but the drive through cattle country was very pleasant. As it turned out, things have changed at that lake since the book was published. Access to the dam is restricted, as are paths close to it. So we walked along a little trail, and did see a few birds.

As planned, we met Biz and Tom for lunch at The Purple Pig, one of the many barbecue places in Tyler. We all ordered barbecue sandwiches and shared a plate of fried pickles. Biz bought a Purple Pig t-shirt for Sam.

When we got back to the Garden Inn Bob and I took a walk along the trail behind the hotel. We found some nice birds: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Carolina Chickadees, many Yellow-rumped Warblers, House Wren. It's a very nice, well-used paved trail.

We went back to the hotel around 3:00 so I could wash my hair. Bob headed for the exercise room while I fussed around getting ready.

We left for Villa Felicita around 4:30. By then it was raining. We all realized that rain is traditional for Henderson/Cohen weddings. It rained at West and Dani's wedding so it couldn't be held in the park as planned; it poured at Biz's wedding so we all got soaked going from the reception to our house; it rained at Bob's and my wedding so we all had to squeeze into our house instead of being out in the yard which we had manicured for the occasion; and now it was raining, with generous amounts of thunder and lightning, at James and Sharesa's wedding. Everybody's still married, so I guess rain is good luck.

A professional photographer took lots and lots of pictures. He was a little mixed up at first. All of the bride's and groom's parents had been divorced and remarried, and he a a little trouble sorting everyone out. "Can't tell the players without a program!" It was funny. We were beginning to understand why Sharesa had insisted on everyone in the wedding party being dressed in a particular way -- the significant men in tuxes (all gotten from the same place) and all of the bridesmaids and other women in black. The effect was quite spectacular. I'm looking forward to seeing his pictures.

My jobs, during the ceremony (which was performed by Sharesa's step-father, who wore a cowboy hat) were to light a candle (I had to be reminded) and to read a poem (which was actually a prose piece about marriage by Madeleine L'Engle, which everyone seemed to like).

After the wedding, there was a buffet and music. The flower arrangements on the tables were beautiful. Then dancing and fun. Rafe amazed everyone by "getting down" and dancing with Cliff and Biz. There were a few toasts while cake was being cut and served. Actually there were three cakes, including a "groom cake", all delicious.

When it was all over, we helped James and Sharesa dismantle their decorations in the place where the wedding had been held. James loaded boxes of the stuff into his truck. (Not a glamorous way for them to end the day -- honeymoon will come later on.)

The following morning we had breakfast at the Inn with Rafe, Ilze, Lee, Mary, Faye, Sheri and Joe. The breakfast and the service were pretty bad, but we had a good time with everybody. Everybody but us was getting ready to leave for home shortly thereafter.

After a short walk along the trail, we came back to the Inn and ran into James and Sharesa who were heading down for breakfast. (She was embarrassed because she hadn't had time to clean up before breakfast was over). We had a nice chat with them.

We said our goodbyes, and headed for Frankston, via the Purple Pig and a t-shirt for young Tom which hadn't been available the day before, and a visit with Dixie's mom ("Big Dixie"). We got a nice little tour of her house, and a tour of Frankston, which Dixie had promised us. It's a cute little town. Seems like everyone in it is related to Big Dixie. We picked up Mary Cox, Big Dixie's daughter-in-law, and drove south to Athens. We had a fried catfish lunch at the Athens Marina. It was excellent, as advertised.

We parted company after that. Bob and I stopped at the Athens Arboretum and walked the two miles of trails. It's a nice place, but is mostly a bird-free zone. We did see a few yellow-rumps.

We left there around 3:00 and headed for Dallas and the Hyatt where we had reservations. The drive on Route 175 was no problem, but we followed Fred's (our GPS's) instructions and wound up at the wrong Hyatt. :-( We got our first clue when they said we didn't have a reservation. It turned out that there's another Hyatt right at Terminal D at DFW.

We got directions from the hotel clerk and got back in the car. We called the correct Hyatt to ask about returning the car. They recommended doing it before checking in rather than waiting until the next morning since we'll be taking such an early flight.

So that's what we did. After a few moments' worry that we were on the wrong road, we found the Alamo place, left the car, and took the shuttle back to the Hyatt. It's a nice place, actually attached to Terminal D. Bob was furious that a WIFI connection cost $19.00 (we declined to do it) and there was no coffee maker in the room (we called and got one delivered).

We had supper at the bar -- we split a hamburger and each had a Shiner Bock (Texas beer). Just the right thing after all that lunch. We went to bed early for a 4:00 AM awakening.

We were back at home before noon. A wonderful, memorable weekend.

A Dear Friend's Death Changes Our Plans

We were all set to leave for Texas and a lunch with friends and relatives who'd planned to gather at the Villa Montez in Tyler, TX where the rehearsal dinner for James and Sharesa's wedding would be held the following night. We had our plane and hotel reservations, and were mostly packed when we got the news that our dear friend, Bill Goldstein had passed away, and that the funeral service would be on the day of our planned departure. Oh, my.

So it was time to look into changing our plans. There was no way we would want to miss the funeral and the chance to share our memories about Bill with others who shared our grief.

The first thing I did was call American Airlines, with whom we had our reservations, back and forth, to DFW. As it turned out, changing our itinerary involved only giving up some more frequent flyer miles. We'd used up 50,000 miles for the original tickets, and would have to give up 25,000 more to make the change. So that's what we did without giving it a second thought. How better to use those miles? Now all we had to do was change our hotel reservations and we'd be all set to leave a day later than planned.

A bit about Bill Goldstein, 84 years old when he passed away. Bill and Bob had had connections way, way back. Bill's and Bob's families were close when Bob was growing up. As a young man, Bill established a music school, The Livingston School of Music, named after the street on which he lived. Bill recruited Bob, who was a college student at the time, to teach piano lessons for him. (At the funeral we met a man who had taught tuba for Bill). When our kids were learning to play the piano, Bob went to Bill for beginners' piano music for them.

Several years ago, when Bob and I went to Bill's house to pick up some piano music, Bill asked Bob, "Do you still play tennis?" At that time, the answer was, "No. Not recently." Bill told Bob about the group he was playing with, and Bob soon joined the group for tennis a couple of times a week. This led to lots more tennis for Bob, with other groups. But as time went on, and Bill's dexterity began to go downhill, Bob and Bill rarely played in the same groups. But they still stayed in touch.

When I learned, through Bob, that Bill was an opera buff, I asked him if he ever learned of unused tickets being offered for sale. That began my own connection with Bill. He told me about Joan Cohen's Opera Salon which he had been attending for years. On his suggestion I enrolled in the class, which met throughout the year to learn about operas through lectures, videos and, later on, DVDs. Bill always saved a seat for me near the front of the class. He needed to sit in the front because his hearing was beginning to go.

I'd always enjoyed opera, and had subscribed to the Met back in the 1980's, and attended Philly opera productions off and on since then. So I was very enthusiastic about the class -- and still am. Joan's most recent series features "Donizetti's Three Queens" -- "Anna Bolena", "Maria Stuarda" and "Roberto Devereux". These are seldom performed operas which I would not have known about if it were not for her class.

With the advent of the Met's HDTV productions, Joan has offered classes to prepare students for the operas that would be presented. One of the recent ones was "Boris Godunov".

The first hint that something had gone wrong with Bill's health was his absence one day from opera class. At first I thought perhaps he'd begun attending the Tuesday sessions instead of the Thursday ones where we'd always met. But then I realized that he certainly would have told me of the change. On further investigation, we learned that he'd passed out, and had been admitted to Elkins Park Hospital, and would be heading for rehab soon. When we went to visit him at rehab, we learned that he'd been sent back to the hospital. He never left the hospital. A couple of weeks later his condition had worsened, and he ultimately passed away there.

Bill's funeral was attended by the many members of his family, including several grandchildren. Many of our friends and acquaintances from both opera and tennis worlds were present as well. All remembered Bill's grandson Josh, who had suffered with Duchenne's Disease, a form of muscular dystrophy. Josh, who was mostly paralyzed the last time we saw him, had given lectures and had written a book, designed to inspire others who suffered with handicaps. Josh had passed away a couple of years before, after a long fight with the disease. Bill's son, in his remarks to the assembled congregation at the synagogue, expressed the hope that Bill and Josh would now be together, looking after one another.

We did get to Tyler and the rehearsal dinner the next day. We were even able to help decorate the chapel where the wedding ceremony would be held on Friday night. So it all worked out for the best.

Recollections of James and Sharesa's wedding and of the reconnections with friends and family will appear in the next post. Life goes on.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy

I’ve just finished reading a rather remarkable book: "Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy" by Dyana Z. Furmansky. I was introduced to Ms. Furmansky when she delivered a lecture at DVOC, Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, in the spring. She had her book available for sale at that event.

Most of us from this general Delaware Valley area are familiar with the name “Rosalie Edge” from visits to Hawk Mountain. We know that she helped to stop the slaughter of migrating hawks at that site, and to ultimately purchase the mountaintop and establish the sanctuary which thousands visit in the autumn.

But how many of us know that she, married to a wealthy businessman, began her activism as a suffragette in the late 1920s? And that, as founder of ECC, she took on “Big Conservation”, including the National Audubon Society, and forced it to stop cozying up to commercial logging and firearms interests and get to work protecting America’s natural environment, wilderness and wildlife.

For many years it was an uphill battle, but Edge was equal to the task and was successful not only at Hawk Mountain, but also successful in safeguarding old growth pines and sequoias at King’s Canyon and Olympic Peninsula in the American West, both of which, through her tireless efforts, became national parks.

A success story.

But, as David Rains Wallace wrote on the dust jacket of Rosalie Edge, “Today, after two decades of reckless economic growth during which “Big Environment” has often seemed more interested in promoting squishy abstractions like ‘smart growth’ and ‘sustainability’ than in fighting for new national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, it sure sounds familiar to me. Rosalie Edge, come back!”

DVOC elected to name its annual Conservation Award for Rosalie Edge - an excellent reminder of the work she did, and of the work that is yet to be done.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

Oregon Trip June 2010

A Birding Trip to Oregon

Six of us flew to Oregon in early June. We landed in Portland, and made our way west towards the coast, stopping at lakes and other good birding spots along the way. It was rainy and cold on the coast – we had trouble holding our scopes steady. We saw Common Murres by the thousands, as well as Harlequin Ducks, Tufted Puffins and Glaucous-winged Gulls.

Heading east we stopped near Sisters and visited totally different habitats. Sapsuckers, both Red-naped and Red-breasted were among the stars.

We spent a whole day at Malheur NWR, part of it in fixing a flat tire. We ended our day with four Short-eared Owls, a real treat.

La Grande was our last destination, for some higher-altitude birding. We found Great Gray Owl nest platforms, but, alas, the chicks had fledged and gone.

We covered nearly 2000 miles in the SUV, stayed in seven different hotels, and tallied 207 species for the trip.

I’ve posted a few pictures here, and more at www.pbase/janebob/oregon_2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Birding Trip to Oregon, June 2010

Early in June, a group of six birders from the Delaware Valley area set out for Oregon to visit several different habitats to look for as many bird species as we could find. We landed in Portland in late morning on June 7. We began birding right after lunch, visiting Killin Wetlands, Pacific University in Forest Grove (where we found Acorn Woodpecker), and Fern Hill Wetlands (where we found Cinnamon Teal and Band-tailed Pigeons). From there we began heading toward the coast. Some of the highlights the next day were a visit to the Lewis and Clark statue

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Visitor From Panama

We've had an eventful week. Last Wednesday, May 19, Hernan Arauz, from Panama, arrived at our house. He was in the Delaware Valley area to present programs to local bird clubs: DVOC, Wyncote Audubon and Bucks Birders (Bucks County Bird Club). We had met Hernan in Panama in March of 2009. He was the leader of our tour of that country, sponsored by Caligo Ventures and Ancon Expeditions.

At that time we inquired as to whether Hernan had thought of presenting programs to North American bird clubs. He said that he had given a talk at West Chester Bird Club several years ago, and that he would be most interested in doing more presentations, possibly in conjunction with a "club trip" to Panama some time in the future.

A March 2011 trip had been fully subscribed, through websites of the bird clubs, and announcements at club meetings, before he presented the programs. An April 2011 trip is newly in the works, and has two subscribers already.

Hernan presented his dynamite program at the three bird clubs to enthusiastic reviews. He combined his extensive knowledge of the birds with a thorough knowledge of the geology and history of the country.

We enjoyed our extended contact with Hernan and his daughter Luisa. They left this morning for a short trip to New York City before flying back to Panama. We look forward to our trip to Panama in March 2011. This time we'll venture into the Darien for a wilderness experience.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Watching Warblers Spring 2010

Watching Warblers Spring 2010

It’s latish May, and the warbler migration is just about over. Warblers that nest locally are at work now. Warblers that migrate northward are already on their way, and some have likely reached their destination.

I had “racked up” 23 warbler species at Magee Marsh earlier in the month, and others here in the Delaware Valley. I was anxious to fill in some blanks for this year.

2010 has been a peculiar warbler year here; the migration in April was exceptionally slow. Warbler lovers began to get discouraged. “There aren’t many birds around this year,” was a familiar lament.

Things picked up in May. And last weekend, on Sunday May 16, I had one of my best warbler watching days ever (discounting, of course, birds seen on trips to High Island, TX and Magee Marsh, OH.)

About Sunday: My friend Martin and I drove to Brandywine Creek State Park, DE to look for warblers. It’s about an hour from home. It was a gorgeous spring morning. We got there when the park opened, 8:00 AM, and were greeted right away with the unmistakable “song” of the Yellow-breasted Chat. It took us a while to locate the bird. We knew, from the sound, that it was high in a tree, several layers back. And then the bird took off, circling around and making its loud flight call. We were able to get a good look at it when it settled down on a branch. Bingo! This was a bird I hadn’t yet seen in 2010.

Our next warbler was a tough one to identify. For one thing, it was pretty well hidden by leaves, and its field marks were difficult to see. Martin and I identified it tentatively as a Bay-breasted Warbler, and confirmed it later after checking several field guides. We hadn’t even gotten started down the trails, and we’d seen two good birds.

As we made our way toward the river, we found Wilson’s and Canada Warblers, both new 2010 birds for me, and also the following: Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia (many of these), Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, and Black-and-white Warblers, as well as Northern Parula, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Common Yellowthroat.

Real life commitments caused us to leave before noon, and we were not able to get to the prairie section of the park where we would most likely have seen Prairie and Blue-winged Warblers.

It was a wonderful day. And I wound up with a total of 31 warbler species for spring 2010. A personal best.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wood-warblers at Magee Marsh

Bob and I spent the last few days at Magee Marsh on the shore of Lake Erie, not far from Toledo. We saw lots of migrating birds, including assorted wood-warblers (23 species), thrushes (3 species), vireos, grosbeaks, cuckoos, tanagers and orioles.

The birds pile up here at Magee Marsh because it is one of the few undeveloped places where they can make landfall and find food before they cross Lake Erie to go north to nest. Many of these birds have wintered in the southern United States and in Central and South America.

Most visitors to Magee Marsh, veteran birders as well as rookies, go there for the spring warbler migration. It is possible to see up to 35 species of wood-warbler in the eastern part of the United States during spring and fall migrations. Many of them turn up at Magee Marsh. (9 additional species pass through the states west of the Rocky Mountains.)

Wood-warblers are among the most beautiful of the birds we can see in North America. In breeding plumage many warbler species are stunning: the Cape May Warbler is bright yellow, orange and black; the Black-throated Blue Warbler is a deep blue, black and white; the Blackburnian Warbler has a day-glow orange throat. The sad part of all this is that, even when these birds pass through our neighborhood in eastern Pennsylvania, most people have no idea that they’re here. That’s because so many of these birds sing from the tops of trees, and people do not stop to look for them. At Magee, though, many of these same species can be found at eye level in low bushes and trees.

When the warblers pass through here in Eastern Pennsylvania in the fall, their colors are duller, and sometimes it is difficult to identify them.

Some of the birds passing through Magee were the same species we can see, if we’re lucky, here in and around the Delaware Bay area. This spring I had seen these species before the trip: Yellow Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated-blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler. All were in small numbers – sometimes just one individual.

At Magee Marsh, there were birds everywhere, most of them singing. We saw all of the above except for Yellow-throated Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush. But we also saw some of the species that do not occur regularly around home: Golden-winged Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler.

Last year, at Magee Marsh, we saw Mourning Warbler and Cerulean Warbler. We were sorry to miss those this year. They are very scarce in areas close to home. Perhaps they turned up at Magee after we’d left.

Of all the amazing things that birds do, to me, their annual migration stands out as the most remarkable. Each bird species has its own timetable and “map”, and knows what to do: where and when to go north, and when to return “home” to its wintering grounds.

Why is it in a bird’s interest to migrate? A bird has four basic needs: food, finding a mate, nesting and raising young. If a warbler were to remain on its wintering grounds throughout the year, it would have to compete with other species for food and nest sites. Over millennia, many bird species have evolved to best cope with these basic needs.

According to the Peterson Field Guide, Warblers, by Jon Dunn and Kimball Garrett, “the most highly migratory wood-warbler, the Blackpoll, breeds across the boreal forests as far north as northwest Alaska and winters mainly east of the Andes in northern south America. In spring its migration is mainly north through peninsular Florida or across the Gulf of Mexico, but the fall migration is quite easterly, with many birds apparently flying well out over the Atlantic from the northeastern states and provinces.”

Magee Marsh is a user-friendly place. Although it gets crowded with birders and photographers during the height of migration, everyone is generally very accommodating and it is always possible to maneuver so as to get a good look at the birds. More experienced birders are always ready to help “rookies” find and identify the birds.

Spring isn’t over yet. There’s still hope. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to catch a few other warbler species that I’ve missed so far this year: Blue-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Canada Warbler.

And then there’s always next year.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Migrating Warblers

Bob and I spent the last few days at Magee Marsh on the shore of Lake Erie, not far from Toledo. We saw lots of birds: assorted warblers (23 species), thrushes (3 species)and other birds.

The birds pile up here at Magee Marsh because it is one of the few places where they can make landfall and find food before they cross Lake Erie to go north to nest. Some of these birds have wintered in Central and South America.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Louisiana Oil Spill

I can't stop thinking about the massive oil spill in Louisiana. The most frightening thing about it is the fact that, in spite of space age technology, they don't know how to shut it off. So it keeps on gushing more and more, hour by hour. The estimate of gallons per hour keeps going up. The cleanup could take years, once they succeed in stopping the flow. So much for the fool-proof new oil rigs! So much for "Drill Baby Drill!" (Haven't heard much from her lately.)

The saltmarsh grasses were already compromised by overdevelopment when Katrina hit Louisiana; this accounted for the severity of the hurricane and storm surge damage. The remaining grasses will be still further destroyed by the oil, and the coastline will be made still more vulnerable.

The abundant wildlife on the Gulf Coast is already feeling the effects. One of the first reported casualties was a Northern Gannet, taken somewhere to be cleaned. Historically this has been mostly a futile effort, but it gives wildlife rehabilitators less of a feeling of helplessness.

Fishermen, shrimpers and crabbers, out of their normal line of work, are lining up to help spread booms to contain the oil. According to a report I heard yesterday on NPR, these people are making $48 an hour to do this. The bad part is that there are not enough booms available to do the job adequately.

I don't know what the long-term solution to all this might be. According to Jad Mouawad's editorial, "The Spill vs. a Need to Drill" in the Sunday, May 2 NY Times, "The country needs the oil - and the jobs... Much has changed since 1969. The nation's demand for oil has surged, rising more than 35 percent over the past four decades, while domestic production has declined by a third. Oil imports have doubled..." leading to more dependence on foreign oil and the intractable political problems that result.

Mouawad goes on to say: "... developing credible, cheap and abundant alternatives to oil will take many decades, and in the meantime, cars need gasoline and planes need kerosene. The United States is still the world's top oil consumer by far."

As they teach in environmental ethics classes, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." We seem to be learning that the hard way.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Profiling" Takes on New Meaning in Arizona

The anti-immigrant bill that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law last weekend is shocking. It takes profiling to a whole new level. It requires that police demand proof of legal residency from anyone about whom they have "reasonable suspicion...that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States."

The alleged "alien" need not be committing a crime or other misdemeanor to be detained under this law. "A person is guilty of trespassing ..." if he/she is "present on any public or private land in this state" if he/she lacks authorization to be in the United States. In other words, the new law requires that people carry what amounts to an internal passport -- shades of the ugly days of the Soviet Union and apartheid-era South Africa.

Representative Raul M. Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, suggested that the nation's business community protest the law by withholding convention business in the state. This could be an effective means of protest, but innocent business owners and their workers would suffer if this were to take effect. However, it must be noted that, in the late 1980s, it took the loss of the Super Bowl to prompt Arizona voters to reinstate a Martin Luther King holiday in the state.

According to Linda Greenhouse, there is some hope that the Arizona law will be overturned. In an op-ed piece in Tuesday's New York Times, Greenhouse wrote, "Supreme Court precedents make clear that immigration is a federal matter and that the Constitution does not authorize the states to conduct their own foreign policies."

Time will tell.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Event at Audubon Center at Mill Grove

Last night, April 24, I attended an event to honor Scott Weidensaul at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. Weidensaul, who has written several books about birds and natural history, received the John James Audubon Center Award for Art Inspiring Conservation. One of his best-known books is "Living on the Wind", nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Proceeds from the event will benefit the preservation of Mill Grove.

Sponsored by Valley Forge Audubon Society and the J.J. Audubon Center, the event took place in a large plastic tent. This would have been a good idea if the night had been warm. But it was a chilly, rainy night, and it was a bit nippy in the tent until it filled up with people. But the company was convivial, and the food, served grazing-style, was very good -- wine and soft drinks, as well as cheeses, chips and dips, and pasta and sliders.

Our Audubon chapter, Wyncote Audubon Society, had purchased a table, and 10 of us attended. Proceeds from the event benefit Mill Grove, John James Audubon's first home in America.

Our friend, and longtime Wyncote member, Leigh Altadonna, served as MC for the evening. He spoke about the historical significance of Mill Grove, and introduced a State Senator and a Montgomery County public official both of whom pledged significant funds for a large visitor center to be erected on the site. The center promises to attract tourists and nature lovers from all over.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Best Laid Plans ....

Wyncote/DVOC Field Trip, Saturday, April 24, 2010

Twelve people (or, make that eighteen - see below) took part in the Wyncote Audubon Society / Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC) field trip on Saturday, April 24 at Fort Washington State Park, PA. It was a beautiful sunny day. Temperatures ranged from 40F when we started out to 65F when we finished up.

It's still early spring, and in this part of the world, eastern Pennsylvania, very few migrants have made an appearance so far.

We (that, is, most of us -- again, see below) began the field trip at the Flourtown Day Use area on West Mill Road in Flourtown. We met in the parking lot, and heard Chipping Sparrow as soon as we got out of the cars. We made our way toward the pavilion, where, in past years, Eastern Phoebes have nested. Not so this year for reasons unknown to us. We walked a short loop around the park, past Wissahickon Creek and past the houses that border the park. No House Wren today -- funny -- I heard one there yesterday. We saw Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, and assorted woodpeckers. Song Sparrows, Carolina Wrens and Northern Cardinals accompanied us all the way around.

We walked past the wetland, which is not wet at all now. It's a "wetlands mitigation area" -- when PennDot made improvements to Route 309 some wetlands were destroyed. By law, PennDot (any wetlands destroyer) must create wetlands in other locations. (According to people who should know, 80% of these "mitigations" fail. But that's the subject of another Blog.)

We went across the field to the path that leads to the wooden bridge (the "poor man's canopy walk"). As we made our way past the big backyards, with chickens, huge gardens and honeybee installations, we saw Red-bellied Woodpeckers at a nest hole, and got a close look at Northern Flickers copulating. Our presence didn't appear to disturb the birds. Bert Filemyr got pictures. (This has been a very good area for woodpeckers this spring: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, as well as the red-bellies and flickers.) From the bridge we heard and saw Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Cedar Waxwings and White-throated Sparrows. An Osprey flew overhead, quite close. Yesterday I'd had Belted Kingfisher at this same spot, but not today.

When we had completed our rounds of that part of the park, we formed a car caravan and set out for the Militia Hill section of the park, about 10 minutes away. We heard and saw Yellow-rumped Warblers (our only warblers for the day) from the parking lot. We saw Red-tailed and Sharp-shinned hawks, as well as Black Vulture and three Red-tailed Hawks, as we made our way up Ridge Road. On our loop around this part of the park we saw and heard many more White-throated Sparrows, and got a great look at a teed-up Eastern Towhee.

Some of the participants were experienced birders, others were new at it, and everyone pitched in to help the new people get on the birds. It was a very nice morning.

But here's the "best laid plans" part: When I got home I had an email from a friend who said she and six others met at Militia Hill at 8:00 AM to join the field trip. As it turns out, the DVOC website had different information from the Wyncote website. My mistake, I'm pretty sure. At any rate, they saw pretty much the same species that we saw, with the addition of a Brown Thrasher at the feeders.

We'll get it all sorted out for the autumn field trip to Militia Hill -- or will it be to the Flourtown Day Use Area?? Be sure to check the website(s). Or, better yet, phone or email me!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Program on Winter Birding in Newfoundland

Tonight I'm going to present my program on Winter Birding in Newfoundland. I went on a WINGS tour in January 2008 for a few reasons: I wanted to see a Dovekie, a tiny seabird, at close range; I wanted the Newfoundland experience; a good friend of mine would be on the trip; and one of my favorite birding trip leaders, Jon Dunn, would be leading it.

It was a wonderful trip. As it happened, in addition to the expected gulls and other birds, there was an "invasion" of Bohemian Waxwings and White-winged Crossbills that year.

My program will contain pictures, some mine, some borrowed, of the birds and the amazing Newfoundland scenery.

Tomorrow's post will contain something about how the program was received.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Some Thoughts About the Birds of Hawai'i

On Friday evening a member of Wyncote Audubon Society, our local bird club, presented a program called "Birding in Paradise: The Birds of Hawai'i." My husband Bob and I had been on Kaua'i in December, and had spent some time birding and sightseeing there. The program reminded me of thoughts and feelings I had had during and after our visit.

I believe it is fair to say that what a birder or naturalist experiences in Hawai'i is quite different from what the average tourist experiences. People talk about the gorgeous foliage and the beautiful birds on the islands without realizing that so little of what one sees is, by any stretch of the imagination, native or endemic.

It would take a trip back through history to understand why this is so. And to do that would amount to taking a look at what our planet itself has been undergoing over the years. As the world becomes "smaller" and plants and animals are transplanted from their native habitat to foreign locations, all sorts of unintended consequences occur. One might consider the Russian Olive, brought in to control erosion, and which has invaded meadows and roadsides in the mid-Atlantic region. Or the Nutria, brought in for food and fur, neither of which proved to be successful, and which now dominates the food chain in southern swamps.

The birds and plants of Hawai'i existed in a stable ecosystem until humans discovered the islands and began introducing plants and animals from other places, Polynesia being one of the first. Then followed the farmers who established huge plantations and introduced cattle and other livestock. Mosquitoes and rats arrived with whaling ships. While much of this development can be looked at as "progress", it has gradually taken its toll on the native species.

A visitor to Kaua'i, The Garden Island, will see and enjoy a variety of birds from his patio: Common Myna from India; Red Junglefowl from Polynesia; Erckel Francolin from Africa; House Finch, Northern Cardinal, Western Meadowlark and Northern Mockingbird from North America; Brazilian Cardinal; House Sparrow from Europe; Japanese White-eye, Java Sparrow; Nutmeg Mannikin from Southeast Asia; Rose-ringed Parakeet from Africa and India; Spotted Dove from Asia; Zebra Dove from Malaysia; White-rumped Shama introduced by the Hui Manu. All nice birds; none native to Kaua'i.

A few native birds can also be seen at lower elevations: Pacific Golden Plover, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Hawaiian Coot, Hawaiian Stilt, Ruddy Turnstone, Hawaiian Duck, Nene (Hawaiian Goose, Hawai'i's State Bird), Wandering Tattler.

And wonderful seabirds can be seen from the Kilauea Lighthouse: Laysan Albatross, Red-footed Booby, White-tailed Tropicbird, Wedge-tailed Shearwater.

But to see the native Hawai'ian songbirds, we met a local guide, Jim Denny, and traveled over rough roads to the high-elevation Alaka'i Swamp. From the boardwalk we were able to see and hear several endemic Hawai'ian songbirds: 'Elepaio, Anianiau, Akekee, I'iwi, Apapane. Successful members of these and other species have retreated, over the years, to these higher elevations to find native plant life that supports their needs, and to escape mosquitoes to which they have never developed a tolerance.

For the average tourist, Hawai'i is seductively beautiful -- an idyllic place to vacation. But for the birder or naturalist it is a reminder of the devastation that the hand of man has been able to create. It is worth pondering.

Etre ou ne pas etre -- "Hamlet" the opera

The Metropolitan Opera brought back Ambroise Thomas's "Hamlet" after an absence of more than 100 years. I saw the Met's HDTV production earlier this week at a local movie theater. "Hamlet" was composed in 1868, and offers ample opportunities for vocal virtuosity. Ophelia's mad scene is a tour de force.

This production featured Simon Keenleyside in the title role, and Natalie Dessay was to appear in the role of Ophelia. These two have worked often together, and have established a remarkable stage chemistry. I'd been looking forward to seeing and hearing that. As it happened, though, Dessay became ill and had to withdraw. Marlis Petersen, a German soprano especially noted for singing Alban Berg's "Lulu", was able to step in on very short notice. She was quite wonderful, especially since she had had so little time to prepare. Evidently she and the conductor, Louis Langree, communicated by Skyping to prepare her for the role while she was still in Europe. Ah, the wonders of technology.

To say that the staging was in the minimalist tradition would be an understatement. It consisted mainly of huge, moving curved castle walls splotched with dark red and other somber colors. While the intent was evidently to showcase the singers, they were often dwarfed by it. A NY Times reviewer described the scenery at Ophelia's apartment as a "deconstructed hotel lobby."

But what I found the most disquieting about the production was the version of the "Hamlet" story that this opera employs. The libretto was drawn from one of the many old stories about a melancholy Dane named Hamlet. It retains many of the basic elements of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" but omits and rearranges significant others. For example, Gertrude the queen is in on the fratricide plot from the beginning, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are absent, Ophelia stabs herself instead of perishing by drowning, there's no "Alas, poor Yorick" although a skull is dug up by some surly gravediggers, and the ending plays out differently. (Evidently the opera was written with two endings, one in which Hamlet does not die -- this one has most often been rejected.)

I hadn't known till recently that this opera even existed, so seeing it was an interesting experience. It's not to difficult to understand, though, why it is so seldom performed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Confederate History Month" Minus Slavery

Last week the Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, issued a proclamation recognizing April as Confederate History Month. He celebrated "those who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth" in an effort to remind people of "the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War." The Governor originally chose not to mention slavery in his proclamation. Instead he focused on "the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia." Apparently he did not consider the suffering of the slaves a significant aspect of the war.

We visited Gettysburg recently and were reminded of the unimaginable suffering and the terrible loss of life, for both sides, on that battlefield. But one must remember that the most significant cause of that war was the issue of slavery. One would need blinders to ignore the plight of the slaves. Perhaps Governor McDonnell wears blinders.

There is no doubt that, right now, much of the public is feeling alienated and anxious about Obama, health care reform, job loss. They want the "old America" back -- an America that was largely white and middle-class. And now they find reassurance and comfort in substituting "heritage" for hate. Right-wing pundits fire up these anxious feelings in order to promote their own agenda and to create a following. And so far they have had spectacular success in fostering the politics of hate.

As Jon Meacham wrote in the New York Times, Sunday, April 11, 2010, "As the Sesquicentennial of Fort Sumter approaches in 2011, the enduring problem for neo-Confederates endures: anyone who seeks an Edenic Southern past in which the war was principally about states' rights and not slavery is searching in vain, for the Confederacy and slavery are inextricably and forever linked ..... We cannot allow the story of the emancipation of a people and the expiation of America's original sin to become fodder for conservative politicians playing to their right-wing base. That, to say the very least, is a jump backward we do not need."

It is the responsibility of level-headed citizens to think clearly and resist being swayed by hate-filled harangues of the demagogues who are championing a "conservative" agenda (whatever "conservative" means these days -- but that will be the subject of another post.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Volunteer Day at the Park

Yesterday I helped to register people who came to volunteer at Fort Washington State Park in Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful day, if rather chilly in the early morning. I've helped out at this yearly event for over ten years. Until this year, it was called "Clean-up Day," but the powers that be agreed that "Volunteer Day" was a more appropriate name.

I had a spreadsheet which listed names and addresses of all of the people who had volunteered over the past two years. Checking them in presented no problem. But this year, thanks to the publicity that the event had generated, we had a lot of new people. So getting them registered involved getting them to come to our table and sign in. Well, actually, I signed them in, since some people's handwriting, especially when it's cold, can be difficult to decipher.

People began arriving, many equipped with gloves, rakes, shovels, and trashbags, around 8:30. There was a steady stream of adults and youngsters after that. With the help of the volunteer coordinator, Marylea, and the park manager, Eric, they were set to work on various chores.

Tree planting was the key activity this year. A number of trees of various species had been donated to the park, and had been recently delivered. Park personnel had used augers to dig the holes, so the task was not as difficult as it had been on some previous years. Other chores included leaf raking, trash pickup, weeding, post-flooding stream cleanup, removal of storm-damaged branches.

At midpoint everyone enjoyed a very nice lunch. Much of the food had been donated by local restaurants and grocery stores, and volunteers helped with the preparation. Some folks left after that, and others stayed on to continue with the work.

When the day was over, we tallied over a hundred volunteers, including an enthusiastic group from Search and Rescue. These people, who use the park to train search and rescue dogs, show their appreciation by coming to volunteer every year.

So all that's left to do now is to send out thank-you letters to the volunteers, and to think about how to prepare for next year's Volunteer Day.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I tend to hang onto books that I've read and liked. The bookshelves in our den are getting crowded, and I'm going to spend this afternoon sorting through the books and figuring out which ones I really want to keep, and which ones I can bear to part with. Do I really need to keep all the Micheners? All the Harry Potters? I have to keep all the Dickens novels because we attend the Dickens Universe at UCSC every summer and I never know when I'll want to reread one. They take up an entire shelf. Other Victorian novels live on the shelf above Dickens. Those are some of my favorites -- Jane Austen, the Brontes -- and they will stay. I have English Lit books from college -- Chaucer, Shakespeare -- with notes in the margins. They will stay. I'm wondering whether I really need to keep Philip Roth. I know he's one of our finest contemporary authors, but I don't personally relate to much of his work except for "American Pastoral", one of my all-time favorites. I guess the rest can go.
And then there are the bird books upstairs. They take up a whole bookcase, and will be dealt with on another day. So, now I'll get to work. I'll let you know how many boxes I fill.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Moving the Barnes Foundation - A good idea?

If you can manage to see "The Art of the Steal" don't miss it. It is a documentary about the calculated alteration of Albert Barnes's will and testament in order to move the Barnes Foundation's priceless collection of post-impressionist paintings from its present Merion, PA location to a new, yet to be completed facility on the Parkway in Philadelphia. The film is guaranteed to make you think: What's the use of making a will?

My First Attempt at Blogging

Sometimes I have more to say than I can fit on Facebook's "What's On Your mind?" So I thought I'd try blogging and see how that works for me.