Friday, December 23, 2011

Some Thoughts about Christmas Bird Counts

Some Thoughts about Christmas Bird Counts

Every year I participate in at least two Christmas Bird Counts, generally one close to home, and one farther afield. I go with birding friends, and it makes for a pleasant social as well as a scientifically worthwhile day.

Christmas Bird Counts have been around since 1900, when the first bird census takers came out on Christmas Day to present a pacifist alternative to the traditional killing binge in which Americans went into the woods on that day to shoot as many birds and small animals as they could.

Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, CBCs serve the purpose of annually monitoring non-migratory bird populations. Each team is assigned a “count circle” and is furnished with a checklist of birds that are likely to be found in that particular area. The CBC checklist is different from most other kinds of birding checklists in that numbers of individuals, as well as individual species are recorded. This is done so that bird populations can be assessed and studied. Hours spent in the field, as well as miles covered in a vehicle and on foot are also tabulated. Results are submitted to NAS, and are sent out to all participants later in the year.
It takes a certain level of commitment to do a CBC. For one thing, at Christmastime the weather can be nasty. We were lucky this year on both of the days I participated. Not too cold, and not snowing or raining, though we’ve had doses of both in the past.

On my first count, on Saturday, December 17, I went with two birding friends, Bill and Lynn, on the local count. We started out at a pond in Oreland, PA at 7:00 AM to survey geese and ducks before they headed out to feed. We counted hundreds of Canada Geese, as well as a few Mallards, three Hooded Mergansers, and a few American Coots. Bill was disappointed that the Ring-necked Ducks he had seen in the same place the day before did not make an appearance. That’s birding for you.

From there we drove to several local habitats including the two sections of Fort Washington State Park. We had all noticed, from monitoring our own bird feeders, that bird populations are down in our area this winter. So we were a bit pessimistic about what we would find.

For me, one surprise had to do with American Goldfinches. At our home feeders, Nyger seed, which goldfinches favor, has been pretty much untouched this fall. I’d been concerned about this. Were goldfinch numbers seriously declining? However, on our CBC, in one locale, we found big numbers of goldfinches eating seeds from the prickly balls on Sweet Gum trees. I’d never realized they’d go for those. Live and learn.

We were out until 2:30 PM, when we had finished covering our designated area. We finished up with 37 species and 2785 individuals. We covered 33 miles in the vehicle, and walked 7 miles.

The next day, Sunday December 18, Bert picked me up at 3:15 AM. We collected the rest of our group, Connie, Ann and Mike, at our regular meeting spot and headed for Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware. We arrived at the gates, which had been opened early for us, at 5:00 AM and drove straight to the owl barn. (We’d gotten advance permission to go there). Two Barn Owls flew out of the barn and a third perched on a cross beam to have his (?) picture taken. Awesome. Our next bird was a Barred Owl which came into our owl noises and perched on a branch. Another photo-op. We also counted four Great Horned and Eastern Screech Owls by call only. We’d peaked early. We knew it would be hard to beat those sightings, and we didn’t.

Then it was time for a brief rest at daybreak before we began birding our designated part of the refuge, Bear Swamp, for passerines, waterfowl and any other birds that might be around. We finished up just before noon, and handed in our tally. We’d found 51 bird species and a total of 916 individuals, not counting the thousands and thousands of Canada and Snow Geese. Some highlights were 11 species of waterfowl, a couple of Bald Eagles, some falcons and hawks, two sandpiper species, three species of woodpecker, both kinglets, chickadees, titmice, lots of Eastern Bluebirds, several sparrows including Fox Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. We covered 25 miles in the vehicle, and ¾ mile on foot.

This type of birding activity has nothing to do with building a big list, or striving for a “Big Year” as portrayed in the recent movie. It has more to do with conservation; more to do with seeing the big picture. Every person who participates in a CBC has contributed something to foster the health of bird populations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Winter Solstice - December 22, 2011

Winter Solstice Meditations – December 21, 2011

Call me a pagan, but, to me, the Winter Solstice marks the most significant part of the holiday season. It has signified hope for the future for many cultures throughout the ages. It is no coincidence that winter religious holidays coincide, quite consistently, with the Solstice. This year, in our home, we’ll be celebrating tomorrow’s Solstice quietly with our little Christmas tree lights, window candles and Menorah all going at the same time to remind us that, finally, with the onset of winter, the sun is coming back.

To wax technical for a moment, the Winter Solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of the Earth’s polar hemisphere is farthest away from the Sun that it orbits. In other words, Winter Solstice occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year.

Several years running we had a Winter Solstice party here at our house. Everyone was assigned a culture’s rites and celebrations to describe for the rest of us. I always chose Druids and stories about mistletoe. I think that’s because Sir James G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough (aka mistletoe) has always drawn me in.

For many of us, equipped with electric lights, a good heating system (when the power stays on) and also a relatively new essential, the Internet, the changing of the seasons may have little significance beyond gratitude that the days are getting longer. How often have you heard, “I hate these short days!”

But in ancient times, the sun’s progress through the seasons was an important component of survival. Astronomical events controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests. So, at the Winter Solstice, when the days finally began to grow longer, people celebrated in many different ways. Various cultural mythologies and traditions have emerged around it. Many of these rites and customs have made their way through the ages to our own celebrations.

Of course, Christmas, with its religious services; music, both sacred and secular; elaborate decorations; and commercialism dominates our contemporary culture here in the United States. Now, in many places, it starts right after Halloween, skips right over Thanksgiving, and continues until the New Year.

But, along with Christmas, cultures around the world celebrate at the time of the Solstice in many different ways. Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century, BCE. The eight-day lighting of the Menorrah symbolizes this event. In ancient Greece and Rome the Solstice was celebrated with the Saturnalia, a time of revelry and feasting. In the Inca Empire they celebrated with the Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun. (In Machu Picchu there is still a large column of stone called an Intihuatana, or “hitching post of the sun.”)In the Persian calendar, Shab-e-chelleh is celebrated on the eve of the first day of winter, when family and friends get together. In Scandinavia, a girl dressed as St. Lucia, with a wreath of candles around her head, “brings the sun back.” The Druids celebrated the Celtic Midwinter with ceremonies involving rites with mistletoe. During the Viking Age, there were celebrations while the Yule logs burned, sometimes for 12 days (“The Twelve Days of Christmas”).

No matter how people observe the Winter Solstice, it marks a time of hope and celebration.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thoughts About The Philadelphia Orchestra

My introduction to symphony orchestras came when I was a little girl and I got to go with my dad to the BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra) when my mother didn’t go. My parents had had a subscription for years. We used to get a ride to the concert with Melvin Bryant, a second violinist with the orchestra and the husband of my piano teacher. They lived a few blocks from us in Belmont, Massachusetts (now famous as the home of Mitt Romney and the John Birch Society, but I digress). On the way to the concert, Mr. Bryant used to regale us with some “inside dope” about orchestra doings. For example, it seems that orchestra members did not care for it when Leonard Bernstein conducted from the piano. The conductor I remember best from that era was Serge Koussevitsky.

After I’d gotten married and moved to Philadelphia in 1954 my then husband, Lee, and I were invited by his uncle and aunt who lived in Ambler, PA to attend their Philadelphia Orchestra series with them. They’d arranged for their daughter Susan to baby-sit with our very young son West. As it turned out he howled the entire time we were gone. Poor Susan. But it was a nice chance for us to get away for a bit from household chores (me) and medical school studies (Lee) for a change. Lee and I continued to attend the orchestra for many years after that. Eugene Ormandy was conducting then.

More recently, twenty-five years ago or so, my present husband Bob and I again became orchestra subscribers, and experienced the move from the venerable Academy of Music to Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center. We had superb seats in the second tier at the Kimmel Center. We enjoyed the “new sound” even though the critics didn’t care for it so much. Evidently the adjustable doors on the sides of the hall never worked as they were designed to.

As time went on, though, certain things began to aggravate us. For one thing, we had begun traveling more, and it was difficult to exchange tickets for a more convenient night. For another, we’d been looking around at other US orchestras and found that our orchestra was beginning to seem stale – behind the times. The powers that be, behind the scenes, just didn’t seem to understand that times were changing. And then there were the programs. We found that, for our taste, there were too many abrasive, “modern” selections on the program. We understood that new composers need to be heard, but enough’s enough on any one program. So, reluctantly, we gave up our subscription. That was five years or more ago, when Christoph Eschenbach was the conductor in residence. To say that he had no charisma would be a gross understatement.

Evidently we were not the only people who’d become disenchanted with our orchestra. Where, in the past, someone would have to die before a subscription would become available, now there were empty seats. Just recently the orchestra went through bankruptcy proceedings. A very sad situation for such a venerable institution. For comparison, one looks to Los Angeles where Gustavo Dudamel is exciting the music public at Disney Hall. And to the New York Philharmonic where Alan Gilbert has brought enthusiasm and excitement to the audience.

So now to a more hopeful present for Philadelphia. In 2012 we’ll have a new conductor in residence, Yannick Nezet-Seguin from Canada. Bob and I had seen him conduct “Carmen” in a Met Opera HDTV production and were interested. Yannick is conducting a few concerts this year. (Charles Dutoit is still the current conductor in residence.) On a recent Friday afternoon I went downtown to see Yannick conduct Mozart’s Symphony #40 and Brahms’ German Requiem, with two soloists and the Westminster Choir. It was wonderful. I sat way up in the third tier, where the sound is terrific. I had my binoculars with me, and could see everything as well. It was spectacular. The hall was nearly full, and the audience was enthusiastic and excited.

So I think PhilOrch is back. And I think I’m back, too. It’s a good feeling.
Posted by Jane at 9:41 AM 0 comments
Labels: music

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Met Opera HDTV Offerings for 2011-12 – A Banquet of Beautiful Sounds, Scenes and Stars

Met Opera HDTV Offerings for 2011-12 – A Banquet of Beautiful Sounds, Scenes and Stars

It’s HDTV Met Opera season again, and I’ve seen three of the ten offerings for 2011-12: “Anna Bolena”,” Siegfried” and “Don Giovanni”. They’ve all been terrific.

When I talk with other opera buffs, someone invariably says, “But it’s so much better in the opera house.” Yes, absolutely, it is. I used to go to the Met back in the 1980s. That was when a good seat in the orchestra cost $75. Now a good seat like that costs nearly $400. Way out of my range. We’ve gone to the Met a few times relatively recently. For a $100 ticket you get a seat that feels like it’s in the next county. Of course there’s Philly Opera too. It’s very good. The only problem is their schedule doesn’t ever seem to work for us. On the other hand, an HDTV Met Opera production makes me feel as if I’m there. I get a close look at the new stars, and some of them are really something. The camera work is generally excellent. The only quibble I have with it is when they’re showing a grand scene, like the second act of “La Boheme”. I’ve seen that one at the Met, and it’s fabulous, horse cart and all. It doesn’t come through in the same way on a DVD. But that’s a small objection.

Side benefits of attending the HDTV productions are the between the acts interviews with the performers, set designer, conductor, wardrobe mistress, as well as a tour behind the scenes. Opera stars, such as Renee Fleming and Deborah Voigt often conduct the interviews.

In "Anna Bolena", the beautiful, charismatic Anna Netrebko starred as the ill-fated queen, driven insane by her unfaithful king. It was quite a show. Donizetti’s music is wonderful, and the sets and costumes were spectacular. Others in the cast included Ekaterina Gubanova, terrific as Jane Seymour, Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry VIII, and Stephen Costello as Lord Richard Percy.

Next up: “Siegfried”, the third opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
I had seen the two previous Ring operas during the 2010-11 season. The first in the cycle, “Das Rheingold” was broadcast on October 9, 2010. The uniquely massive $40,000,000 set was unveiled for that one. The floor of the Met stage had been required to be reinforced to accommodate the weight of it. It involved huge moving parts, which made it possible for the Rhine Maidens to slide down a huge ramp, among other things. The costumes were awkward. Bryn Terfel, as Wotan, was dressed up like a Marvel Comics hero, with greasy-looking hair disguising his missing eye. For me, the outstanding performer was Eric Owens as the dwarf Alberich. Sometimes Alberich is portrayed as a one-dimensional evil character. Owens presented him as conflicted by what he is driven to do: steal the Rhine Maidens’ gold.

Then, on May 14, came “Die Walkure”. This is the opera in which the twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, fall in love and eventually beget the hero, Siegmund. Deborah Voigt sang Brunnhilde, daughter of Wotan. This opera furthers the conflict between the humans and the gods. At the end of “Die Walkure”, Wotan sentences Brunnhilde to sleep on a rock, surrounded by a wall of fire that only the bravest hero can pierce. This hero turns out to be Siegfried, the child that Sieglinde bears.

“Siegfried” finally brought it all together. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris, from Paris, Texas, stepped in at the last minute to substitute for Gary Lehman, who was ill and unable to perform, in the role of Siegfried. Morris had recently performed the role at the San Francisco Opera. It is one of the most challenging in all of opera. He was terrific. He was full of energy and in good voice. Bryn Terfel again sang Wotan, appearing in disguise as the Wanderer. The unique sets were used to good advantage in this one, and the grand design gradually became apparent. Digital effects, including a flying bird, were effectively employed. In the last act, Deborah Voigt came through brilliantly as Brunnhilde, aroused by Siegfried, along with her horse, Grane, after a 17-year siesta. Earthly love ended her immortal life. And thus ended “Siegfried”. The final opera of the Ring, “Gotterdammerung”, will be aired in mid-January. I’m looking forward to it.

On a completely different note, the third HDTV Met Opera of the 2011-12 season, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” aired on October 29. I guess everyone knows the story of Don Giovanni, aka Don Juan. That was a great production as well. The music is gorgeous. “Don Giovanni has a charismatic lust for life, but he’s not just some serial seducer – he’s a dark, complex individual,” says Michael Grandage, director of this production. The don meets his comeuppance at the end. When he refuses to repent, he is consumed by flames. Mariusz Kwieken, as the Don, Ramon Vargas Mojca Erdman and Luca Pisaroni all delivered stellar performances.

The next operas, in order, will be: “Satyagraha” by Philip Glass, which explores the origins of Gandhi’s philosophy; “Rodelinda” by Handel and starring Renee Fleming; “The Enchanted Island”, a Baroque pastiche; “Gotterdamerung”, which completes the Ring Cycle; “Ernani” by Verdi, in which Elvira is courted by three men; “Manon” by Massanet, in which Anna Netrebko portrays the tragic courtesan. The HDTV season closes out with Verdi’s “La Traviata” with Natalie Dessay.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thoughts About Writing

I just turned 78. I want to be a writer when I grow up.
The president of the Ivy League college I attended told us, at graduation, that each member of our class had a book inside. I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
So I’ve done a little writing, off and on. As a very young parent of four kids (I was married and pregnant when I graduated from college – not such an odd thing back then) I read a lot, and wrote letters to the New York Times. Several got published. But no book yet.
When the kids were older, my husband and I divorced after 19 ½ years (ouch), and I got a job teaching English at a Philadelphia high school. My first job.
The school was located in a run-down, drug-infested part of the city. Think “The Wire”. Seeking more peaceful surroundings, I started going out birding on weekends with local groups. The writing urge kicked in again. I submitted articles about birds and bird travel to various publications, and a few manuscripts were accepted. I haven’t written any of those for a while. I do think about trying it again.
Meanwhile, in revisiting a long-time love of Charles Dickens’s novels, my second husband and I wrote study guides for several of his novels for junior high and high school classroom use. Published by the Dickens Project at UCSC, they sold briskly for a while, and then not so much.
I busy myself with all sorts of stuff – travel (mostly bird-related), reading, gardening, music (mostly opera, lately), regular exercise, Facebook (too much time wasted on it).
But still no book.
So, now, here I am, retired, happily married, kids all grown up and gone. Grandkids growing up too. I have no excuse for not getting started on a book. As I said at the beginning, when I grow up I’ll get back to writing, full-time. I might even try writing a memoir or a novel.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 2011 DVOC Trip to Panama

DVOC Trip to Panama March 2011

Participants: Bert Filemyr, Art McMorris, Ann and Mac Scott, Barbara Thorp, Connie Goldman, Susan Schuur, Jack Plotkin, Bob Cohen, Jane Henderson

Day 0, March 9, 2011: We fussed around in the morning till Barbara and Kurt picked us up at 1:00 PM. We shot to the airport (EWR) and met Bert, Connie and Art when we were emerging from security. We hung out at the gate, and then Jack and Susan turned up. They’d been there for some time, coming from Detroit, and waiting elsewhere. The flight was uneventful, but warm and stuffy. When we got to PTY, Ann and Mac had already arrived. In the midst of arrival security, Susan lost track of a bag, but was able to retrieve it. We were met by a guy and a bus, equipped with a trailer for our stuff. We arrived at Gamboa around midnight, checked in, showered, and went to bed.
Night: Gamboa Resort

Day 1, March 10, 2011: We had Continental breakfast at 5:00 AM, and were picked up by Hernan and driver at 6:00 AM. We went to Soberania National Park and to the tower at the Discovery Center, and stayed there for over two hours. The canopy was very active that morning. Blue Dacnis, Blue Cotinga, Red-legged honeycreeper, assorted tanagers and pigeons. Then we walked a trail near there till it was time for a picnic lunch at the Discovery Center, a nice place. Then afternoon birding at Pipeline Road. It rained on and off, but we got to see some nice birds. We wound up at Gamboa Ponds. There were some great birds there: White-throated Crake, Wattled Jacana, Fork-tailed Flycatcher. We had dinner in the restaurant at Gamboa. It was Jack’s birthday, and he got a small cake and we all had sparkling wine. To bed early.
Night: Gamboa Resort

Day 2, March 11, 2011: We had Continental breakfast at 5:00 AM and left at 5:15 for Metropolitan Nature Park. Foolishly, Bob and I did not spray for insects, and both wound up with chigger bites, his worse than mine. We did a long walk around the park, and then took turns going up in the Smithsonian crane. We were in the second group. We didn’t see as many birds from the crane as we had two years ago, but it’s a pretty awesome experience. We had a big lunch at Miraflora Locks. We went to Summit ponds and saw Boat-billed Heron. We had dinner at Gamboa, and did checklists there in the library. Rebecca turned up for that.
Night: Gamboa Resort

Day 3, March 12, 2011: We walked down to the jungle boat and went out into the Chagres River and the canal. We saw some nice birds, including a great look at a Snail Kite, and had a close encounter with monkeys. We had a picnic lunch on one of the little islands. Rebecca was with us again. We left Gamboa at 1:30 PM and set out for the local airport. Lots of Cuna Indians were waiting to go home to San Blas. The women wore elaborate woven stockings. Hernan said their men like women with thin legs! There was no place to sit down, and was pretty hectic. It took forever for everything to settle down so we could take off. A yellow bus met us in David, and as soon as we got on the road we had a flat tire. The guys fixed it in no time. We got to Finca Lerida at 6:45 PM. It’s a very nice place. We had dinner at 7:30 PM. Very good food.
Night: Finca Lerida

Day 4, March 13, 2011: We got up early and walked Baru National Park, on the boundary of Finca Lerida, all morning. We had Wattled Bell Birds all over the place, and decent looks at Resplendent Quetzals, and an iffy look at a male. We had lunch at the finca (too much food!) and then took a short tour of the coffee works there, courtesy of Cesar, who had also helped with the morning birding. Everyone went down to the platform feeders in the late afternoon. It was cold and drizzly, and I left before the others did. We had dinner at the finca, and enjoyed watching “typical” dancing and music. Hernan danced a bit. To bed, packed for tomorrow’s departure, at 10 PM. It would have been nice to spend more time at the finca. It’s one of the nicest places.

Day 5, March 14, 2011: towards Volcan: This was a strenuous day of birding. We set out early from Finca Lerida and headed towards Hotel Dos Rios. We stopped at a couple of places, Caldera Road and Querevalo Road, along the way. Our destination was La Amistad International Park. We had a lot of good birds there. It was a long, hard walk, up and down, over rocks and slippery roots and mud.
Night: Hotel Dos Rios

Day 6, March 15, 2011: We packed up and headed for Tapir Canyon Road. This was a very good birding spot. We had lunch at Cielito Sur, a really nice place, and then a short visit to Finca Dracula. We had a brief guided visit to some of the orchids. There weren’t many birds around this time. We drove back to hotel Dos Rios to pick up our baggage and check out. Hernan was a bit upset with himself for not checking out when we left in the morning. We drove in a bit of a hurry to the airport in David to fly back to Panama City. We got there around 5:30, and began the long drive to Hostal Casa de Campo, a weird bed and breakfast. We had dinner at 8:45, served by a surly waitress in a “mammy” outfit, and were watched over by the proprietor. Our room had a bathtub with shower, but there was no shower curtain, and water poured all over the floor. We were finally in bed at 11:00 PM. I didn’t sleep much that night.
Night: Hostal Casa de Campo

Day 7, March 16, 2011: After a pretty good breakfast at Casa de Campo, we took a long hike on an up and down trail at Chagres National Park. We had lunch at Birders View, a local Audubon place. We watched hummingbirds for a while, and then began the long drive to Burbayar Lodge, a very nice place. We had a little thatched-roof cabin to ourselves. We had dinner, did checklists, and turned in early. The generator goes off at 9:30.
Night: Burbayar

Day 8: We had a big breakfast at Burbayar Lodge and then set out on a 2 km muddy hike, up and down some severe hills. We did see some birds, but not enough to justify the long hike, I thought. We had lunch at Burbayar. Hernan asked me to tip El Jefe, Jose. I thought this was the last straw. He owns the place! This seems to be another of the trips where we’re asked to tip someone every time we turn around. Around 2:25, we headed for the Country Inn in Panama City. We got there at 4:30 and then had free time (!) until 6:30 when we were picked up by Justo to go to dinner at a big restaurant on the water. We had drinks (I had a margarita) and dinner. Nice time. We were back at the hotel at 9:30 PM. It was good to be in a regular hotel for a change, we thought. Nice room, nice shower (with two taps!)
Night: Country Inn, Panama City

Day 9, March 18, 2011: We drove to “the mangroves” in the city and saw a bunch of birds, some new, while dodging traffic and breathing in dust and exhaust fumes. They’re tearing everything up to make room for expansion of the city. From there we drove to the Pacific Coast and saw many species of shorebirds. Then to the historical ruins. We had lunch in the cafeteria. Then we transferred to a smaller vehicle to the top of Ancon Hill and walked down, dodging traffic. Eric, one of our bus drivers, picked us up for the first of two farewell dinners (for Connie, Jack and Susan) at a nice restaurant in Second City. He had a heck of a time getting there because many of the roads were blocked off for some kind of festival. There were many detours and police blockades. Hernan had something to say about all that. The dinner was excellent – a great assortment of different kinds of food. Then back to the Country Inn to sort out what would go to the Darien, and what would stay behind.
Night: Country Inn

Day 10, March 19, 2011: Connie, Susan and Jack left early for the airport. The rest of us had breakfast there, and then left for the Embera Village in the Darien. We were transported much of the way in a wooden motor launch. We got a hot lunch on the way. The Embera people live in a traditional style, in thatched-roof huts. We all stayed in tents in our hut, accessible by a primitive ladder, which was tricky to negotiate, especially at night, when there were no lights except for the moon. We shared a toilet and cold-water shower. The Embera women and girls were summoned by conch shell, and sat around in a big circle, some breasts covered, some not. They all displayed handcrafts, mostly baskets. I bought a tiny basket. Others bought a ton of stuff. It was a good day for the crafts people. Most of our people enjoyed this experience. Bob was so frustrated by it (heat, hot tent, primitive toilet) that it upset me, too. I think I would have fared better alone on this one. I took tow Ativan, and had a decent sleep. Bob said he didn’t sleep at all. We were both aggravated that we hadn’t been better prepared for this rustic experience.
Night: Embera village

Day 11, March 20, 2011: We began the long trek to see the Harpy eagle in the early morning. It was a hard slog, 7 km there, 7 km back, with roots and slippery places. We finally saw the bird when it was nearly time to turn around. It’s an awesome creature. We had lunch at the village, and took off by boat to Punta Petino. The lodge is a nice place, but nothing worked in our cabin – AC, lights didn’t work, and the toilet tank wouldn’t fill.  Bob was furious that we weren’t getting our money’s worth. He went ballistic over the electrical problems. It took forever for “Frankling” to get the lights and AC to go on. We thought we were OK until everything went off again. To bed at 9:00 PM
Night: Punta Petino lodge

Day 12, March 21, 2011: I had a decent night’s sleep, thanks to Ativan. Bob said he didn’t sleep at all. No wonder, since he was so agitated. Hernan switched cabins with us. Everything was working in his. We took two long walks, on trails near the lodge. Good scenery, good birds. After dinner we took a pauraque walk, and didn’t see anything, though they had been calling all over the place before and after. We left the walk early. Julia got covered with ticks. To bed at 9:30 PM. Basically it’s a lovely place. Too bad they can’t get the electrical and plumbing problems under control.
Night: Punta Petino Lodge

Day 13, March 22, 2011: We left Punta Petino at 6:30 AM and started the long boat ride back to Gamboa. We stopped once to get out and look at Fort Lorenzo, and another time so Hernan could buy some fish. Then a long bus ride back to Gamboa (after helping Mr. Wong get out from under his bus with flat tire. It was a potentially disastrous situation. He was nearly pinned under the bus and refused help. Thank goodness Hernan and Justo helped anyway. The passengers didn’t seem to realize how dangerous their situation was). We got to Gamboa at 5:00 PM. We met for drinks and dinner and Bert supervised the checklist in the library.
Night: Gamboa

Day 14, March 23, 2011: We met Hernan here at 5:30 for a trip to the Discovery Tower. The birding was pretty much of a bust this time. We had lunch at the Discovery Center, and then walked Pipeline Road. We saw some birds, but nothing new. There was nothing at the pond, either. Back on hotel grounds we had a lot of good birds – Golden-hooded Tanager, Olivaceous Trogons into and out of a termite nest. We had dinner at Hernan’s house, which is pretty much like a museum. We had chorizo, hamburgers, cake, and wine and assorted liquors. A very nice time. We left Hernan a very generous tip, and a few thank-you notes. We were back at Gamboa at 9:30 PM.
Night: Gamboa

Day 15, March 24, 2011: Justo picked us up at 5:30 AM for our 10:05 AM flight. (He had to be awakened by the guy at the desk). Ann and Mac had gone to Tocumen earlier, bound for Miami and their house in Venice, FL.
Bert and Art got picked up by Jim; Barbara, Bob and I were met by Kurt. (Barbara was delayed a bit when a cute beagle sniffed out an apple in her carry-on. She had to go to the horticulture place to be checked out. Thank goodness I thought about my apple before it got to that point). We got home around 4:45 PM. We had dinner at Cisco’s.
Night: Flourtown

2011 Trip to Florida

Winter Trip 2011

Day 1 Sunday, February 13, 2011
We left home at 7:00 AM in our almost-new Toyota Rav4. It was cold, and we were dressed in winter clothes. There was still a lot of snow on the ground at home. Bob was so happy when the snow finally disappeared when we got to southern Maryland. We stopped a few times along the way for food, gas and bathroom, and arrived at Jerry Cochran’s house in Salisbury, North Carolina around 2:30 PM. We sat around in his kitchen over glasses of wine, and then went to dinner at Outback. We all had prime rib. Very good. Night at Jerry’s.

Day 2 Monday, February 14, 2011
We left Jerry’s around 8:00 AM and set out for Decatur, Georgia. Again, we made several stops along the way to stretch our legs. We arrived around 3:00 PM, after getting the northern salt off our car at a carwash. After greeting Rafe and Ilze, we had some tea while watching the Eastern Screech Owl peek out of one of their owl boxes. Their yard is amazing: two screech owls in residence, Pine and Myrtle Warblers, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpecker, Purple Finches, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, White-throated Sparrows, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-shouldered Hawk. We took a walk around the neighborhood with Rafe, and found out all about local goings-on.
We had tuna and noodles for dinner, and settled in for the night.

Day 3 Tuesday, February 15, 2011
In the morning, we all took a walk at the Clyde Shepherd Refuge. There weren’t a whole lot of birds there. Many, many American Robins, but not much else except for one Golden-crowned Kinglet. We went back to the house for lunch. In need of some exercise, I asked about a local walking trail. As it turned out, a rather large recreational area is being developed nearby. So Rafe, Bob and I drove over there. Actually, we could have walked. It’s less than a mile away from their house. At any rate, we parked the car and set out. The boardwalk is partially completed and we walked it for a mile or so. We took a detour to Mason’s Mill, a defunct water works, covered with elaborate graffiti. It was a very interesting walk, and we’ll be sure to do it again next time we visit.
We enjoyed “sandwich night” after watching their two screech owls leave their boxes to go out and hunt for the night.

Day 4 Wednesday, February 16, 2011
We left Rafe and Ilze’s at 7:00 AM. We followed “Fred’s” (reliable GPS) directions, and basically took I-75 all the way to Venice, Florida. It’s a 500 mile-long, pretty easy drive. There was very little traffic. We arrived around 4:00 PM. at Ann and Mac Scott’s very nice, quite large rental house on one of the lakes. Debbie and Lewis Barrett were also staying there. We had snacks and drinks, and then dinner around 8:00 PM. To bed at 10:45.

Day 5 Thursday, February 17, 2011
We were all up at 7:00 AM. We had breakfast at the house, and then headed for the Celery Farm near Sarasota. We saw a Limpkin land in a tree close to us shortly after we arrived, and thus ended the “Limpkin Curse” for this trip. (We saw several of them after that.) We saw several waders, an assortment of ducks, one Sandhill Crane, and a Savannah Sparrow, which we struggled to identify. It was skulking in the grass, rather unusual behavior for that species. We took a break at the local library, a very nice structure, and each bought some books from their $1.00 used book shelves. We had lunch at Chick-Fil-A, and then headed for Myakka River State Park. We walked several of the trails, but there wasn’t much bird activity at that time of day. It’s a great place. We’d been there once before a few years ago. We came back to the house for a while, and then went to the beach for the sunset. Ann made dinner for all of us again. Debbie and Lewis got ready to leave early the next morning.

Day 6 February 18, 2011
We said goodbye to Debbie and Lewis at 8:00 AM, and afterwards took a nice walk along the Myakka River. We found a group of assorted warblers – Black-and white, Palm, Pine, and also Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos at one spot. We had sandwiches at the house, played a couple of games of Chicken Foot, which we’d brought for them, and took off for Naples and the Cushes. We got to their house around 3:30 PM. We watched some golf, had dinner, watched the original “True Grit” with John Wayne, and went to bed around 11:00 PM. It was good to see Tom and Mary, Biz’s in-laws, again. When they lived in Dresher, PA we used to do stuff with them all the time.

Day 7 February 19, 2011
Bob and I left around 9:30 AM for Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. We had two gorgeous male Painted Buntings at the feeder first thing. We did not see the females at all this time. There were lots of Red-shouldered Hawks with us all the way round, perched, flying overhead, and calling. No Swallow-tailed Kite this time. They had not turned up yet, though they’re “supposed to” on February 18. No Barred Owl, and no Wood Storks either. In one spot we had a number of warblers: Pine, Black-and-white, Parula, Yellow-throated, “Baypoll”, Common Yellowthroat. Also White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Baltimore Oriole. All the usual waders, Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants. We walked around twice.
We watched “Endurance” about the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition after dinner. It’s an amazing film. It made me want to go to the Antarctic. Too bad it’s so hideously expensive.

Day 8 February 20, 2011
We spent all day with Tom and Mary. We drove to Marco Island to see Burrowing Owls, and did see one peeking out of its hole. We walked around a small craft show before having lunch at Pelican Larry’s. We all had oysters, some raw, some fried. All good. We played Chicken Foot all afternoon. Fun. We had a spaghetti dinner at the house, and watched part of “Born Yesterday” with Judy Holliday, and part of “My Fair Lady”, both on TCM, before going to bed.

Day 9 February 21, 2011
We left Tom and Mary’s at 8:30 AM and headed east on Route 41 to Shark Valley. We hadn’t brought bikes on this trip, since we thought there wouldn’t be enough opportunities to ride this time. Also we hadn’t had a chance to try out the new bike rack on the Rav4. It has to be mounted oddly because of the spare tire. The parking lot was already full, so we parked on the street. We walked a couple of miles down the trail, and took a few pictures. There was nothing spectacular or unusual, but we had some nice views of Purple Gallinule, the usual waders, and lots of alligators. We saw distant Snail Kites across the road after we’d gone back to the car. We left there around noon, and ate lunch under a tree (it was getting hot by then) in the big Indian casino parking lot. There were lots of RVs in the lot. We headed for Brian Piccolo Park, a “sure spot” for Burrowing Owls, and learned that the county parks would be closed till 5:00 PM Wednesday for Presidents Day weekend! What a silly idea. I guess they’re strapped for funds, too. We drove to Markham Park for snail kites, but that one was closed, too.
We got to the Sleep Inn at Dania Beach around 4:00 PM. I had a message from Marco in Panama that something was up regarding the Darien extension to our trip. He requested that I call him, because of a “sensitive” issue relating to the extension. I finally got through to him, and found out that the Cana part of the trip has been cancelled due to poor conditions at the Cana air strip. At this point, our itinerary will have to be adjusted to eliminate the Cana portion, and a new itinerary is to be proposed.
Alvin and Marie picked us up at the Sleep Inn and took us to a nice fish restaurant. Parking the car in the crowded lot was a circus, but Alvin managed with the help of the parking lot assistant. We had a very good dinner. We sat at a table next to a nice, young black couple, who were very interested in Alvin and Marie’s long history, including Alvin’s service in WW II. They bought us dessert.

Day 10 February 22, 2011
We checked out of the Sleep Inn in Hollywood and got sandwiches and stuff at the local Publix, just like old times. Our first stop, heading north, was Green Cay. It’s a wonderful place, but it was a little disappointing. We’d heard such great things about it. Lots and lots of people use it for walking exercise. It’s a rather new waste water treatment facility, about 6 years old. The visitors center is quite elaborate. We went from there to Wakodahatchee, where we’d been many times before. There were lots of nesting birds on the islands, as usual. We had a nice look at a Sora, and got some decent pictures of it. We ate our sandwiches in the car, and headed to Grassy Waters to look for Snail Kites. We found the place all right, and walked the very nice new boardwalk, but the only bird there was a Great Egret. We asked some folks about the kites – they had easels set up and were painting – and they had no idea what we were talking about. One guy said the kites are not here this time of year. Nice try.
We headed north towards Fort Pierce. We’d been invited to spend the night at Sam Freed’s place, but we decided to soldier on to the Viera Wetlands (Bob calls them “Viagra Wetlands”) and come back to Sam’s. It took longer than we’d thought to get to Viera, so we booked a room at “America’s Best Value Inn” motel (pretty sleazy) in Melbourne and drove on after calling Sam to say we wouldn’t be staying this time. Nearly all the motels around there were booked up, even before we left for the trip – combination of Daytona and the shuttle launch. Viera Wetlands is wonderful. I wish we’d had more time there. We did see a Sora and an American Bittern, and lots and lots of coots and moorhens. I’m sorry that we didn’t get to see Sam’s house. Oh, well.

Day 11 February 23, 2011
We were out of the sleazy motel by 7:30 AM. It was actually clean enough, just shoddy. Everybody else staying there was either black or latino, and in the construction business, or so it seemed at breakfast. We made another trip around Viera Wetlands. It was very foggy. The only “new” bird for us there was a perched Peregrine Falcon. We headed north from there, and made a detour at Merritt Island NWR Black Water Drive. The whole refuge was very dry, and bird life was minimal except for hundreds of Dunlin and a few yellowlegs. A volunteer at an eagle watch said there has been a severe drought and they do the best they can to get water from one area to another. We got on the road for real at 10:30, after stops at Publix and Walgreens. We made a couple of stops, and got to the Fairfield in Florence, SC around 6:00 PM to find that they had no record of our reservation. Fortunately they had a room, and then I had to figure out what happened to our reservation. We had a terrible dinner at the Outback. The meat was old and dry, and we complained. We weren’t charged for it. We were back in our room at 9:00 PM.

Day 12 February 24

Florence to home. Long drive, lots of traffic. We were home around 4:00 PM.