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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

The Blue Bench — painted by Pat Bean

“Truly the bench is a boon to idlers. Whoever first came up with the idea is a genius: free public resting places where you can take time out from the bustle and brouhaha of the city, and simply watch and reflect.” – Tom Hodgkinson

Sitting, Watching and Listening

Dock benches at Tom’s Cove Campground on Chincoteague Island in Virginia. — Photo by Pat Bean

When I was a beginning birdwatcher, I thought patience was only an activity for couch potatoes. This non-activity simply wasn’t part of my vocabulary – or my life. But the birds I wanted to see didn’t always, in fact seldom, showed up in a timely fashion.

“Learn to sit quietly for half an hour and you won’t be disappointed,” a birding mentor told me. But 10 minutes was all I could manage for the first couple of years. I had to work up to it, but finally I caught on.

A bench at the Amherstburg Navy Yard in Ontario, Canada.

 

And once I did that, I began looking for places with interesting views to sit. And lo and behold I discovered the joy of benches. The blue one above, which I painted from a photograph (below left),

was located at Lake Walcott State Park in Southern Idaho. It looked out over a meadow filled with tall, grassy reeds where yellow-headed blackbirds could frequently be found.

The benches on the top left were located on a dock on Chincoteague Island in Virginia, where I spent a week. Gulls and boat-tail grackles liked to gather here.

And the photo on the right above was taken in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada, where I watched a blue-winged teal swim about in the harbor and house sparrows pecking about in flowerbeds.

Sitting on a bench, in a delectable nature setting, has now become one of my “activities.”

It is much better any day than sitting meditation, which so far, I haven’t managed to do for more than five minutes at a time. My busy brain just won’t turn off when Mother Nature, and birds, aren’t around to keep my attention focused.

I guess you can now call me a bench potato.

Bean Pat: The Page Turner http://tinyurl.com/y9b2y3z3 Enjoy the photography of John Macdonald. I did.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is soon to be released. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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A great egret fishing the Poteau River below the Lake Wister Dam near Poteau, Oklahoma. — Photo by Pat Bean

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!” – William Butler Yeats  

Making a Mountain out of a Hill 

           For the nine years in which my home was on the road in a small RV with my canine companion, Maggie, I called myself a wondering-wanderer. It’s because as I drove across North America, through its golden fields of grain and mind-boggling redwood forests, and often went to sleep beside a gurgling body of water, my mind was always asking questions.

Cavanal: World’s Tallest Hill in Poteau, Oklahoma

A week spent at Lake Wister State Park near Poteau, Oklahoma, got me thinking about the difference between a mountain and a hill. That’s because Poteau’s Chamber of Commerce promotes the city as home of the world’s tallest hill, but that hill is officially called Cavanal Mountain.

What I easily learned, from bit of geological research, is that a landscape feature is a mountain if it is 2,000 feet or taller, and a hill if it is less than 2,000 feet tall. Cavanal Mountain is 1,999-feet tall.

The road up to the top of Cavanal Mountain.

Once I put my wondering mind at ease, I was able to enjoy my stay on the park’s tiny Quarry Island, which was accessed by a short bridge.

I awoke each morning to the sound of a chipper mockingbird greeting the day from the top of the picnic table outside my window. Lake Wister, created when a dam on the Poteau River was completed in 1949, also greeted me every morning. It was visible out both my front and rear windows as Quarry Island was quite narrow.

Maggie and I took frequent walks around the island. It was a great week in which my wondering mind did a lot of wandering.

Bean Pat: Deep in my Bones http://tinyurl.com/yayrrvgf A lot to howl about. This reminds me of the night I howled with the wolves, which I write about in Travels with Maggie.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is soon to be released. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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A Chilean flamingo. — Wikimedia photo

“You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.” – Isadora Duncan

They Called Him Pink Floyd

In 1987, a Chilean flamingo escaped from Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, Utah, then he, or she, eluded all efforts to be recaptured. No one knows where the flamingo migrated to each spring, but the bird was usually spotted every winter for the next 15 plus years on the Great Salt Lake, where it dined on the inland lake’s brine shrimp.

Pink Floyd wasn’t the only thing I saw in Northern Utah. These great blue herons were wintering on Farmington Bay adjacent to the Great Salt Lake. — Photo by Pat Bean

The flamingo became a legend to birders, and someone called it Pink Floyd. The name stuck.

I got a rare, distant glimpse of him in about 2002. His pink coloring made him stick out among a flock of avocets and gulls, which were feeding in shallow waters a goodly way from shore. Pink Floyd was quite an oddity, and I felt privileged to have seen the flamingo, especially since I had become addicted to birding in 1999, and then spent a couple of years on the lookout for Pink Floyd.

Chilean flamingos have a life expectancy of up to 50 years, but Pink Floyd hasn’t been seen since 2005.It is suspected he didn’t survive that winter.

When I sat down to write my blog this morning, I had no idea what I was going to write about. That happens some days. Then suddenly, Pink Floyd pecked my little grey cells and said: Write about me.

Bean Pat: Masterpieces at the Musee d’Orsay http://tinyurl.com/ycgu9aoq Take an armchair tour of a Paris museum. I loved the Van Gogh.

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George Archibald took this photo of me at the end of our tour to see whooping cranes on the Texas Gulf Coast. I’m smiling because I saw these awesome endangered cranes. — Photo by George Archibald

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life. John Burroughs

The Man Who Danced with One

A page from my journal with a cutout of George Archibald in his whooping crane outfit.

I just finished reading To See Every Bird on Earth by Dan Koeppel. In it he mentioned George Archibald, a conservationist and co-creator of the International Crane Foundation. A day later, I read another mention about George, this time from one of my own journals. I had met George during a birding festival in Port Aransas in 2009, at which time he talked about the endangered whooping cranes that winter on the Texas Gulf Coast near Port Aransas.

In the 1940s, there were fewer than 25 whooping cranes left in the wild, and only a couple of these giant birds in captivity. Today, because of the efforts of Archibald and others like him, over 300 whoopers are now flying free, migrating between Canada and the lower U.S each year.

Whooping crame on Matagorda Island. — Photo by Pat Bean

During a workshop talk, George put on his crane costume and demonstrated how he danced with an orphan whooping crane chick as a way to teach it to dance the way whooping cranes do to attract and bond with a mate. Whooping cranes have to be taught this, as well as their migration paths, by their parents. Mom and Dad make their first winter migration flight with them.

I took pictures of George in his crane suit, and put some of them in my journal. Then the next day, I took the whooping crane tour aboard the Wharf Cat out to Matagorda Island to see the real whooping cranes. George was aboard and we had a nice long chat about the whoopers, and the work he and others are doing to save the cranes. It was a fascinating couple of days, and I’m glad both the book I was reading and my journals let me relive it.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Interesting Literature http://tinyurl.com/y8casam5 Edward Allan Poe’s The Raven. I first read this when I was nine or 10 years old. Although it was another 15 years before I knew I wanted to be a writer, this poem certainly helped me fall in love with the sound of words, even though I didn’t know what they all meant at the time.

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The ferry from Aransas Pass to Port Aransas on Mustang Island on the Texas Gulf Coast. — Wikimedia photo

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” — Jimmy Dean

And a Journey to Mustang Island

As one who loves road trips, and one who believes the journey is even more important than the destination, I was in high spirits as I drove Gypsy Lee, my 21-foot home on wheels, down Texas’ Highway 35 on a late February day. It was 2009, and my first sojourn after spending the nastier days of winter hanging out in my children’s driveways.

A great egret sat by a small pond near the entrance to Mustang Island State Park. — Photo by Pat Bean

The sun was shining brightly but the day was quite windy. Through my windshield, I could see turkey vultures wobbling in flight and kestrels swaying on roadside wires. Have you ever noticed that these high-wire-loving falcons always seem to face the road and not away from it?

The gray feathers of a mockingbird, the only other bird that seemed to be defying the wind this day, were blown up like a skirt, exposing white feathers as if they were a petticoat. As this Texas state bird winged its way inch by inch into the howling wind. I felt like I was watching a slow-motion vignette.

I sympathized, as I had to keep my hands tightly placed on Gypsy Lee’s steering wheel to keep sudden gusts of winds from blowing her sideways. I gave myself a break from driving by stopping for a bit at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, where I got a distant look at a couple of whooping cranes. I would see these endangered birds up much closer later in the week when, I took a tour boat out of Port Aransas.

A brown pelican and a laughing gull near Port Aransas. Photo by Pat Bean

Back on the road, the wind was still singing loudly, but soon, although many mind musings later, I found myself in Aransas Pass, where I would catch a ferry to take me across to Mustang Island. The ferry docked in Port Aransas, which sits on the northern end of this narrow stretch of water-enclosed land. My destination for the day was Mustang Island State Park on the southern end of the island.

Once hooked up, I enjoyed the remains of the windy Texas day, ending it with a sunset stroll on the beach beneath cackling laughing gulls, and beside white-capped waves rolling up beneath my sandaled feet.

Bean Pat: A slice of life http://tinyurl.com/y9rq4uxv This blog makes me feel gratitude for still being able to enjoy the little things in life.

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A view of the morning sun creeping down the Catalina Mountains from my bedroom balcony. — Photo by Pat Bean

“I love to think that animals and humans and plants and fishes and trees and stars and the moon are all connected.” – Gloria Vanderbilt

And the Plant that Returned to Me

For three years, I looked for a place to settle when I left the life in my 21-foot RV. Nothing called my name, and so I continued living and traveling across this beautiful country for a total of nine years. And glad I am that I did.

The rubber tree plant on my bedroom balcony. It found its way back to me after a 10-year stay with my friend, Kim. — Photo by Pat Bean

But finally, I knew I wanted a hot bath every night, counter tops, access to a local library and a bit more space. What I ended up with was a 625-square-foot apartment in Tucson, Arizona that had my name etched on its front door. While I would now love a second bedroom for guests, the apartment seemed like a castle when I first moved my sparse belongings into it.

It met my requirements of a nice outside space to walk Pepper. It had a view of Mount Lemmon that was similar to the view I had in Ogden, Utah, of my beloved Mount Ogden. And best of all it had both a living room and a bedroom balcony that provided almost the same feeling of living in the outdoors that I so loved so much about my RV life.

My doors to these third-floor patios remain open the majority of the time, being closed only when the outside heat requires that I turn on my air conditioner. Nine months out of the year, I sleep with them open. My balconies are my favorite place to sit with morning coffee, and happy hours with friends in the early evening. From the front balcony, which overlooks the night lights of downtown Tucson, I watch hummingbirds flittering about my nectar feeder.

On the back balcony, which provides the view of the Catalina Mountains, sits a large rubber tree plant, one that I raised from its youth. I gave the plant to my friend Kim when I retired and went off gallivanting in my RV. Once I was rooted again, she asked if I wanted it back. I did. It provides a link to a life that I loved in Ogden, to the life I now love here in Tucson.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Life is good – even without a second bedroom, since my living room couch is pretty comfortable.

Bean Pat: White-faced ibis http://tinyurl.com/y8qus5ty One of my favorite bloggers. If you like birds, you’ll like this one.

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“Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” – Albert Einstein

A male Baltimore oriole. — Wikimedia photo

My 477th Bird

Back in 2006, when I was still a full-time RV-er traveling across America, I found myself camped beside Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees at Bernice State Park in Oklahoma. On my second day there, I was up by 6 a.m., and after a quick cup of cream-laced coffee and a short walk with my canine traveling companion Maggie, I took off alone to explore the park’s nature trail. It was summer-hot and humid, and Maggie had seemed quite agreeable to be left behind to sit in her favorite perch in front of the air conditioner.

View of Grand Lake that I had through the window of my RV at Bernice State Park in Oklahoma. — Photo by Pat Bean

Several bird feeders set out near the trailhead were bustling with Carolina chickadees and American goldfinches, and as I watched, a nearby downy, North America’s most common and smallest woodpecker, drummed its own attention-getting beat. It was going to be a good day, I decided.

As I continued on down the path, I took plenty of time to breathe in the simple beauty around me: a yellow patch of wall flowers, the artistic composition of a small dead tree reclaimed by vines, and an occasional peek of a glistening, sun-speckled lake through thick foliage

I’ve often wondered how people who don’t take nature breaks stay sane in today’s fast-paced world? I suspect that the angry psychopaths who do evil and harm are among the deprived.

My thoughts were interrupted when a doe and her freckled fawn came into sight around a curve in the path. I froze, as did the two deer. We all stared intently. When I finally took a step forward, mom stepped into the woods. Her baby gave me one last look of interest then quickly followed. It amazes me how fast wildlife can disappear from sight.

A male Bullock’s oriole — Wikimedia photo

My thoughts were still on the deer when a flash of orange drew my attention. With eyes glued to my binoculars, I followed the color through the tree branches, and realized I was most likely looking at a Baltimore oriole. While common in the East, these orioles don’t visit the West, where I had lived when I took up birdwatching.

Out West, the Baltimore’s look-alike cousin is the Bullock oriole. I had seen hundreds of Bullocks, but this was my first Baltimore. It was what we birders call a lifer. While I rejoiced, I lamented the too brief view I had before the bird disappeared amongst the trees. I had identified the bird more because of its color and location than because of specific field marks.

Later in the day, as I was sitting at my table writing, the omission was rectified. A Baltimore oriole flew right outside my RV window, and then lingered in the area. It was a breeding male with a black head atop a bright orange body that had thin white streaks on black wings. A Bullock wears only a black cap atop its head and its black wings have prominent white patches on them.

After the oriole flew away, I got out my world bird list and added the Baltimore oriole to it. It was bird 477. I had been hesitant to put it on the list earlier because of the poor sighting. Life is good, I thought, as I added the date and place of its sighting beside the bird’s name.

As I had suspected, it turned out to be a very good day.

Bean Pat: Houston Art Car Parade http://tinyurl.com/mqug4ef For people watchers, too. As a writer, these photos are good examples of interesting characters.

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