Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Christmas Letter

Greetings, All, and Happy Holidays,

I’ll start out with 2013 disasters: (1) Golf club swing gone wrong late in March, in the midst of a golf lesson.  Sammy took a big swing and accidentally socked Bob on the arm – ulnar fracture: Surgery > rehab. (2)  Rav4’s steering went wonky on my 80th birthday trip to New England.  Car upside down in ditch.  Side airbags and seat belts  > no injuries. (3) Hand surgery for me for ring finger tendonitis  > rehab (4) Diagnosis of lactose intolerance for me. (5) Back problems for Bob > exercises.

Otherwise it was an excellent year. We went to Santa Cruz and San Francisco in January, and saw Clifford, Dixie, Adrienne, Judah and Zoe, and did a little birding. We bird-sat with Bert & Les’s famous over-wintering Rufous Hummingbird. We watched many of Sammy & Ethan’s basketball, and later, baseball games. As part of my 80th birthday celebration we attended a Red Sox game, visited Linda and Blase at their farm, and visited Bill in Vermont. In late September Jim and Sharesa came to see us and we all toured Philadelphia, driving by all our previous residences.

We saw Sam Cush perform in a couple of excellent Severna Park High School musicals. Sam will graduate HS this year; Biz will graduate from Towson with a MS. Andy & Tom both live in New York now, Andy in BedStuy, and Tom in Williamsburg. Tom has a job with Fox TV, and Andy works for Animal New York.

We went to Belize in late February to meet Don and Carol Scott there. It was a birthday surprise trip for her. Oscillated Turkeys, Emerald Toucanets, Mayan ruins at Lamanai, and a ferocious chigger attack.

 We had Common Redpolls at our backyard feeder, an unexpected  treat. I did a program on “Birding the 5” (California Interstate) for Wyncote Audubon Society, and lined up speakers for WAS 2013-14.

In March, because of Bob’s broken arm, we hired a landscape company to clean up the yard. They did the lawn all summer too. I spent a lot of time gardening from March to September. Mostly flowers out front.  After more power outages we bought a generator and had an electrician install the hook-up. We have not needed it yet. With the Rav4 totaled, we settled on a Nissan Rogue. We like it a lot so far.

In May we went to Magee Marsh in western Ohio again, and had an honest-to-goodness fallout of warblers and other birds. We even had a halfway decent look at a Kirtland’s Warbler. We ran into a lot of friends there, as usual. All things being equal, we’ll go again in 2014.

In early June we went to Alaska with Road Scholar. We flew into Anchorage, rented a car, and drove to Denali to meet the rest of the group. We spent 5 days at Denali, and drove south to Moose Pass.  We made a few driving trips to Seward, and did a day trip out on the Kenai Fjord.  The major highlight was a trip in a Cessna to see glaciers from above. Alaska is amazing. We want to go back.

In August we went to Santa Cruz for the Dickens Universe. The Mystery of Edwin Drood this time. We stayed most of the time at Cliff & Dixie’s, and also visited with Adrienne & family in SF. We helped Zoe balance on a borrowed bike, and read her lots of bedtime stories.

I still attend HDTV Met operas and Philadelphia Orchestra concerts. Bob comes along sometimes. We’ve both enjoyed Cheltenham Township Adult School trips to different parts of New York.

End of the Year Summary of Books I read in 2013

January: The Moonstone, Willkie Collins (for the upcoming Dickens Universe) - reread
Silent House, by Orhan Pamuk, another book about Turkey.

February: Middlemarch, by George Eliot.  I hadn’t read that one since college. Terrific.
The Theban Mysteries, by Amanda Cross

March: Charles Dickens, by Claire Tomalin, now a movie, "The Invisible Woman"

April: The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, reread after we saw the movie
A Song of Ice and Fire #1 by George Martin, the first in the "Game of Thrones" series

May: Code to Zero by Ken Follett

June: The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens (for Dickens Universe) - reread
A  Song of Ice and Fire, #2 and #3

July:  A Song of Ice and Fire #4

August: A Song of Ice and Fire #5
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver, about butterfly migration. Not one of her best.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.  I identified with the “Amazing Amy” theme
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, one of the outstanding reads of 2013

September: The Cuckoo’s Calling by (really) JK Rowling. Not one of her best.
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini, about Afghanistan
The Story of Beautiful Girl, by Rachel Simon.  Based on a true story, but hard to believe
Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy, by Peter Carlson.   Journalists caught up in the Civil War.  Very powerful.

October: The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Very interesting. Glad she’s gone back to writing novels, instead of contemplating her navel through memoir.
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, about the Washington U crew team that won the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Very inspiring.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt . A painting taken from the bombed out Met Museum. Excellent read.

November: God and Baseball by JH Sauls. I didn’t finish it. Enough said.
The Kurt Wallender series (four books) by Henning Mankell. Good murder mysteries.
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. Native American life.

December:  The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. New Zealand gold mining. Excellent read.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Reads like Young Adult.
The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Terrific history of an interesting period. If I don't hurry up, I'll still be reading this one into 2014.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Yellowhammer Effect

The Yellowhammer Effect

A few years ago, when Bob and I took a Sunbird Tour and visited the Czech Republic to do some birding and hear some music, we were treated to looks at a variety of birds, many of which were well known to the European members of our tour.  I pointed to a colorful bird that was perched high on a tree and said, “What’s that?” A member of the tour said, “That’s a Yellowhammer. We see those in our backyard.”  “Oh, said I,” recognizing that what was an everyday bird for some was not an everyday bird for all. I should have remembered that lesson when we took a Swedish gentleman out birding in New Jersey.

This is how it worked out. A week ago our friend from Sweden, Magnus Aurivillius, had some unexpected time off, and he messaged me to ask whether we would be free to take him out birding somewhere. Bob and I had nothing special to do that day – Bob is still recovering from surgery on a broken arm – so we said, “Sure,” and arranged to meet him downtown at the hotel where he was staying, near the Convention Center. 

We decided that a trip to Belleplain, NJ would be the best choice for this time of year. It has wonderful habitat, and is home to a variety of nesting birds, many of which would still be vocalizing, we hoped. 

So we picked him up at 6:30 AM and headed south on the Expressway toward Routes 55, 347 and 47. We stopped at the usual WAWA, picked up sandwiches and continued on toward Belleplain, a short distance away. (The drive there took about 2 hours.) We stopped along the dirt road whenever we heard vocalizations, and found Worm-eating, Black-and-white and Pine Warblers, among others. 

We went from there to the bridge on Sunset Road to look for Prothonotary, Yellow-throated and Hooded Warblers as well as Northern Waterthrush.  We had luck with the Hooded and the Yellow-throated, but the others were nowhere to be seen. Magnus was happy to see the Yellow-throated at close range.  He had not seen one for several years.

We had lunch at the picnic area at Nummy Lake, where we enjoyed the company of Chipping Sparrows and Common Grackles. 

Next stop was along Franks Road to look for tanagers. We had great looks at a female Summer Tanager, and saw Scarlet Tanager singing from a treetop.

But here’s where the Yellowhammer Effect came in. On our way out of the forest we saw a Gray Catbird in the bushes on our left. I said, “Do you want to look at a catbird?” Magnus enthusiastically said, “Yes, I’d like that!” So we all got out of the vehicle, and he carefully examined every field mark on the catbird.

We who live here in this area take catbirds for granted. A pair nests in our backyard every spring. But to Magnus, catbirds are seen very rarely, and only on a trip to North America. We had not considered that in making our plans for the day.  If we had, we would probably have taken him to a spot closer to home, like Forbidden Drive or Tinicum, where he could have seen our everyday bread-and-butter birds: Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy and Red-bellied  Woodpeckers, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and, of course, Gray Catbird.  Then we would not have spent so much time driving. Next time he visits and wants to go out birding again, we’ll stay local.