Monday, July 28, 2008

The Bird Blind at Pedernales Falls State Park

I got to the bird blind late this afternoon (I had mundane duties at the RV that I needed to do - plus birding is better later in the afternoon than in the heat of the day . . . ) While I have visited Pedernales Falls State Park many times, it has also been a very long time. The bird blind is new since I was here last. Turns out it was built around ten years ago - so sad that it has been so long since I've been here!

I walked over quietly carrying my big lens, its big tripod, my binoculars, my bird book and my water bottle. It is a short walk - easy to do even in the heat of the summer carrying gear. It is big, wooden, covered and has a large mostly plexiglass window so you can really get a good view of the birds. On each end, there are wooden shutters that reveal openings large enough for lenses and cameras. There is a big box fan as well, but since I want to hear any bird songs, I was not interested in turning it on. There is a large picnic table with a flip book with photos of birds that you are likely to see as well a spiral to record which birds you see. That comes in handy for looking back and seeing what other (possibly more experienced birders) have been seeing. There are also some comfortable benches with backs that I enjoyed using. Each end of the building is open to give some ventilation and the possibility of hearing the bird song. It is large enough for a group of birders to feel comfortable. But, enough about the structure . . .

When I looked out that plexiglass window, I knew I was in for a treat! There was a raccoon on the far end - he heard me and quickly left. There were birds flittering all over the small yard. One of the first ones I picked out with my binoculars turned out to be a female painted bunting! I saw a number of those come and go. There was a hummingbird feeder. I'm not good at identifying the females that were coming in, but before long, a male came in - based on how black the head and neck were (and the useful journal of what others have been seeing) I could safely say, black chinned hummingbird.

Northern cardinals, carolina chickadees and titmice -both black crested and tufted were visiting the various feeders. And what wonderful feeders - I had heard about using natural materials to create feeders but I had not really seen this kind of setup close up. They used old tree roots, old tree trunks, and gnarled driftwood and had food in the cracks and crevices. So when I pull the camera out and start my photography, the photos will appear natural with natural perches.

The area was enclosed by stacks of trimmed cedar branches - creating a boundary for the feeding area, but also natural places for the birds to perch and hide. On the far end are several water features - a water drip, a misting area and a still pool.

In one of the nearby trees, I saw a blue gray gnatcatcher working its way through the branches. A male ladder backed woodpecker came over to check out the holes in one of the feeder tree trunks. Before long a female visited and got her evening meal.

What a delightful way to spend the evening - I almost felt like I was in heaven!

My list for the day:
painted bunting - female
Northern cardinals - male, female, juvenile
wren - probably Bewicks
Carolina chickadees
Black crested titmouse
tufted titmouse
ladder backed woodpecker - male and female
mourning dove
house finch
black chinned hummingbird - male and female

And a raccoon - both at the beginning and the end.

Photos tomorrow!

Off to Pedernales Falls

Today I've got to get my gear and stuff gathered together. For several reasons I need to make a run over to Pedernales Falls - a beautiful state park near Johnson City. Even though we're going to be home more this year, I still need to be creating new images. I'm hoping there's still enough water in the river and that I'll see a different set of birds at the bird blind.

It is also hard for me to believe, but this is the first RV trip in a year! I hope the tires are not flat on one side from sitting in one place so long.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

2008 Bird Chicks in my backyard

'Tis late July and I'm seeing more juvenile birds coming to the feeders and the water trough. It has me thinking about the chicks I've seen in my yard this year. Back in late April, early May I had the privilege of seeing a killdeer family - 2 adults and several miniatures, the chicks. So perfectly like the parents just much smaller. The family behaviors were interesting to watch as well. One of the parents would give the broken wing dance to lead us away from the chicks. And the adults and young would whistle to each other to bring the family back together again. I thought they would be around more than a couple of days, so as I was busy with some other tasks at the time I did not grab the camera to take photos. But it is sure a great memory.

One evening I came home and as I walked up the back porch I realized I had fledgling wrens - perhaps their first day out of the nest! I saw them over the next few days, but once again, I was occupied with other mundane events.

We had nesting swallows, but we were out of town when they would have been rearing their young.

I had a red tail hawk that built a nest somewhere in the neighbor's treeline. We've seen some hawks flying around that make me think we have juvenile hawks at this point.

There have been a group of mockingbirds with the tell tale marks on their breast that indicate that they are juveniles. I've been watching one that flies in circles up the trunk of the tree near the ground feeder. Sometimes I think it is trying to chase the other birds out of "its" tree. I've also seen several mockingbirds together that make me think they are a family group.

I've had a large flock of field sparrows that come in together. In the past, the field sparrows usually come in in one's and two's - which makes me think that some of this big group are this year's fledged chicks.

The cardinal chicks have also been visiting the feeder - they are almost adult sized, but not all of the feathers have come in yet.

There is a blue jay coming in that also has a downy appearance around its bright blue feathers - so I'm thinking juvenile for him as well.

I've even seen a couple of birds that I suspect are juvenile starlings from the markings on their breast that resemble the ones I photographed a year or so ago.

We put out owl boxes - so I'm hoping next year we will have owl chicks as well.

Yes, I enjoy watching the birds that visit my yard!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How long????

In my morning scripture readings this week, Psalms 13 resonated.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
"How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?"

At different points in our lives, we deal with the "how longs."

How long will it be before I can make a living from my photography?
How long before my Christian book is published?
How long will it be before we can travel extensively again?
How long will it be before I can go back to Africa - both for photography and for missions?
How long will it be before I lose the weight I need to lose?
How long will it take me to get back "in shape?"
How long until Henry's book sales take off?

What are your "how longs?" How long until my baby sleeps through the night? How long until the baby is out of diapers? How long until all my children are in school? How long until my next vacation? How long until all my children are grown and out of the house? (I always enjoyed my children - I was in no hurry for them to grow up.) How long until the next promotion or raise? How long until I can retire? How long do I have to endure this miserable boss?

We all have things that we are "waiting" for. It can become: "I will be happy when . . . "

But our goals are constantly in transition. If we wait to be happy "when," often when that event occurs we are already waiting for the next "when." If we are not careful, we can spend out entire lives waiting for an elusive moment to be "happy."

In Psalm 13, David is dealing with real enemies who want to kill him. David had many trials in his life - a king who feared him and wanted him dead, a son who led a rebellion, a son who died from illness . . . He expressed that sorrow and grief: "How long?????"

But as in many psalms, grief, sorrow, and worry end with words of hope:

"But I trust in your unfailing love,
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for He has been good to me.

Sometimes we miss out on joyful moments because of worries. When I look back on Mother's Day 2007, I have good memories. It was truly a special Mother's Day, Evelyn and Gene were still living at home. We had a wonderful celebration on both Saturday and Sunday. But it was bittersweet at the time because we knew that Gene was not very healthy - and in many ways that cast a shadow. A year later, I appreciate that Mother's Day probably more than I did at the time, because Evelyn was very ill this Mother's Day. She is healthier now (thank you God!), but Mother's Day this year was painful. Looking back, I don't think I fully appreciated Mother's Day 2007 - and now I appreciate it so much more.

So this Psalm reminded me to look at the things in my life that I am grateful for RIGHT NOW! It is so easy to focus on the things that you need to improve or that you "wish" would happen and be blind to the good things going on in your life right now.

We can't live in the past, we can't live in the future . . . we live in the present. I have wonderful memories of my past - so wonderful that it is easy to grieve that I am not living in those times now. In watching the generation above me age and endure the discomforts of old age, it is easy to worry about the future. But I have little control over that. I may age into a "healthy" senior citizen, or I may have dozens of age related diseases - there is no way to know right now. But when I worry about an unknown future, it robs me of the joys of today. And Jesus taught in Matthew 6: " Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

I think that sometimes "happiness" sneaks up on us, a byproduct of daily living. I think it helps to take time for regularly for reflection. Psalm 18 helped remind me to look at my life right now and appreciate the good things. I have a loving family, I enjoy watching the birds almost every morning, we have pets that show us unconditional love every day. I have just had two photos published! I can get up every morning, I can walk through my house, I can see the sunrise, I can hear the birds sing . . . I need to be careful and not take these simple blessings for granted.

Psalm 118:24 reminds me: "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

The Zambian Christians have a saying that is a mantra in both good times and bad: "God is good all the time. All the time God is good."

May God help me experience this joy in Him every day!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nature's Best

It's official. When we got home, I found my subscription copy of the spring issue of Nature's Best. I had heard that I had two photos in it, but I was a little like Thomas, the apostle, until I touched it, opened it, and saw it for myself, I had a hard time truly believing. Silly me . . .

Nature's Best is a beautiful magazine with incredible photos each quarter. For two of my photos to appear there is thrilling.

My water lily photo, "Radiant" appears in the Public Gardens section of the Backyards Contest.

My Curve billed Thrasher photo appears in the Wildlife section.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Photography-The Business Side-Keeping Records

At the NANPA Colorado Regional Event I attended, one of the pros commented that the difference between amateur photographers and pros was not so much in the quality of the photos but in the self marketing.

There are many ways to market photos, but I've been making submissions to various markets over the past several years. My primary record keeping system has been making duplicates of each image and storing that image in a folder with the place the image went. While that had the added benefit of giving multiple copies of my better photos, it also increases the amount of storage. It also did not give me an immediate look at all the places I had submitted a given image.

When I first started submitting images, I had set up an Excel spreadsheet. However, in a short period of time I had set up 30 columns of markets. It was definitely unwieldy and I did not continue long with that system.

I know that this year I need to expand the places I submit photos. A data base was the logical answer, but I've always been a "spread sheet person" not a "data base" person. Henry is my computer guru and he is a "data base person." I asked him to see what he could find that would work for me. (And as a writer, he needs the same kind of data base.) He came up with the program "Bento."

My first attempt at using Bento was not encouraging. I set up a photo library and a publications/submissions library, but I could not figure out how to connect them. I was creating a form that was going to be just as bad as all those columns on the spread sheet. Henry bought the program for himself and began experimenting.

The solution was actually easy - I still have a photo library and a publications/submissions library. They are connected with a table. I can enter the information about each picture with each market and date on a separate line. I can easily see where each photo has gone (when I get all the data entry done.) The other bonus about Bento, I can insert a thumbnail of the photo - so I can see exactly which photo the unique name is referring to.

While the information on the older photos is less critical, I find myself enjoying seeing the number of places where I have submitted work over time. I also am pleased that when I look at the older photos, I know that my work is improving. Some of the older ones still hold up over time, but most the photos I'm taking now are much better than the ones I used to take. It will take me a while to get all the older photos entered, but I really want to get my more recent work and submissions current.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Lessons from Assisted Living - Sassy

We've watched two different groups of senior citizens recently. One group is much physically healthier than the other. But we've seen human dynamics or "politics" in both groups.

I've noticed one lady these last couple of days. The first day I met her, I had bumped her chair without realizing it. I did not even feel it, but to her it was a sudden jolt. And . . . she let me know that I had bumped her. Now the distance between chairs in the dining room is not very much - you're going to get bumped every now and then. But I moved to a different position at the table so I would not bump her again.

I noticed her again today. She was coming down the hall. Another lady walking her dog was coming down the hall in the opposite direction. Now, I did not see the beginning of the altercation. But all of a sudden one lady says, "Well, YOU could have moved to the other side." And of course, at that point the other lady said: "WELL, YOU could have moved to the other side." As I passed the lady I'd been noticing, I asked her how she was. She gave me a quick smile and said, "I'm sassy today."

I looked up the word, "sassy" this evening. Webster's says: impudent, vigorous, lively, distinctively smart and stylish. So, I checked out "impudent:" marked by contemptuous or cocky boldness or disregard of others : insolent."

I've been friends with Bettye Baldwin, (Secrets of a Lazy Trainer) for eight or nine years now. She has taught me the importance of having a "bubble" around you when you are working with horses. The horse needs to know where you bubble ends and it is extremely important to continually reinforce that boundary. A horse who knows that boundary won't run you down (and I have it on good authority that it HURTS when a horse runs over you!)

That bubble is actually a boundary that you teach the horses you are around. I know that I was not raised with good boundaries, but as an adult I have learned the importance of both establishing boundaries in my human relationships and respecting other people's boundaries. One of the difficulties in human relationships is that each one of us has a different set of boundaries. Some people have tight boundaries - they don't want people standing too close, they are friendly but sometimes in a standoffish way. Some people have tight boundaries with strangers, but looser boundaries with their friends and family. I am someone with loose boundaries. I may not realize I have blundered into someone's space (as I did when I bumped the lady's chair.)

When watching wildlife, I have watched many species "defend their territories." Usually, the battles are simply skirmishes where one animal "tests" the boundary of another one and quickly backs down. But sometimes, these turf wars can become fights that lead to death.

When we're dealing with people, we need to pay attention to the signs that indicate boundaries. We need to watch body language and tone of voice. Humans are social critters - we need each other. But when you have a lot of people living in fairly close quarters, it is doubly important to respect those human boundaries.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Lessons from Assisted Living

We will be meeting new people for a few days as my mother-in-law gets settled in her new assisted living apartment.

Lesson 1. I am SO greatful for the cheerful staff. It is amazing how much a friendly, cheerful voice and a helping attitude mean when you are working with elderly people. Patience is a much needed virtue as well.

Lesson 2. One of the ladies we met had this to say: "This place may not be everything I want it to be or everything you want it to be, but it a pretty good place!" I thought that was a good attitude - recognizing that while everything is not "perfect" things are still pretty good.

Lesson 3. From my mother in law, in reflecting on her day - she got to go to church, a little different, but still very nice. She had friends from her church bring her communion. She actually felt like eating and seemed to enjoy it. She marvelled and was so pleased that she felt like eating. We sat out in the courtyard and listened to the birds and watched them. At the end of the day, she decided that she had had a pretty good day.

Lesson 4. When I was sitting out on the courtyard, she said something about other things I could be doing. I could truthfully say that there was nothing more important for me to do right then than sit in the courtyard with her. Priorities . . . spending time with her is top on the list right now.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Road to Boreas Pass

I like to cruise areas to see what wildlife or scenery I can find to photograph. Sometimes, it pays to go back to an area several times. Boreas Pass was closed the first time we tried to take it this trip. We tried again a couple of days ago and I was pleased to see more birds along this road.

As we neared the top of the pass, I saw some bright yellow birds. I pulled out the big Sigma lens and waited. They flitted from branch to branch in the willow thicket - no clear shot - too many branches. I waited. One of them landed briefly on a pine tree in front of me - I'm too slow - he was off before I got much of a shot. I waited some more, moving periodically hoping to get a better shot. Finally, finally, one landed on a different pine tree. It was only after I got home to check the shots on the computer, I had ONE good shot of what turned out to be Wilson Warblers.

I like to cruise areas to see what wildlife or scenery I can find to photograph. Sometimes, it pays to go back to an area several times. Boreas Pass was closed the first time we tried to take it this trip. We tried again a couple of days ago and I was pleased to see more birds along this road.

On the first day, we had seen a group of birds that I was hoping were Red Crossbills. But we were never close enough to get much of a look through the binoculars. The second day farther up the mountain we saw them again. I pulled out the big lens and had a chance for a couple of shots. They were eating something on the road, I'm guessing getting their grit quota for the day. Coloration was right for crossbills, but the beaks were not, so I think these are pine grosbeaks.

The yellow coloration marks the juveniles.

Another good reason to cruise backroads - we also saw several foxes and to our delight a black bear down near the parking lot where the houses begin.