Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Willet's Shrimp Dinner

When my fingers are sufficiently sore from practicing mandolin, I return to my August “chore” of sorting and filing photographs from the past year.  

I’ve always grouped photos by date and locale, but this summer I’m undergoing a major project to create an additional filing of past bird photographs, grouped by bird name.  It is great fun to go back through the years and see progress in photos and field techniques.

My favorite photos are usually NOT the rare migrants, or the new lifers found in fields far from home.  Instead, I most like photos of the common birds of the Texas upper gulf coast.  I especially love watching them go about their lives; giving me glimpses into the common behaviors we humans so share with the feathered ones.

Even though I chased spring migrants this past April and May, blogging a bit about my daytrips, it is this set of photographs, of a Willet with her shrimp dinner, that are my favorite.

Dinner is found:

My favorite photo, watching this Willet as she swings the shrimp up and out and around:

The swing-technique would end by catching the shrimp mid-body:

And the epicurean delight would begin:

And repeat:

Don’t we all recognize these facial expressions from eating really great food?

And then the expression I know so well:  I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!

Have a birdy day (or at least enjoy some really good food)!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Gull Speak

I can be a bit different and still fit in—but only if those around me, so alike, will welcome me:

We all have something uniquely beautiful that makes us a bit different.  For me, it’s my pink-pink legs:

See?  We can stop and listen:

Did you say it’s time to pray or take a nap?

Have a birdy day!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Music, Noise, Music

It is August.  What could I possibly write about other than to say:  “It is hot down in Texas!”  But I’ve learned to love August for one reason:  a whole bunch of my favorite months are just around the corner.

As my blog isn’t journal style, I tend not to write when I have no blog-worthy photos or stories.  But I decided it was time to summarize these past three weeks, and then move ahead.

The only blog-post title that came to mind was a week of music, a week of noise, and another week of music (of a different kind).

The first week’s music was the loveliest kind: one of my sibs and one of his nieces came for a visit.  The sib stayed the weekend; his niece stayed a good bit of the week that followed.  We three had not been together in over a year and so fun and laughter and the goodness of time together spilled over into a lovely melody. 

My little stick home came alive with a week of a young adult’s energy.  Sib’s niece especially likes to cook and so I handed over the keys to my kitchen, sitting back and enjoying the smells and creations that came forth.  I won’t soon forget the music of that week.

What followed has been more than a week of the terrible noise that many around the world have stopped, and listened, and found no answer for the discord. 

For me it started as I found my way back to the gym, after a week of visitors and house cleaning afterward.  I climbed up on my least favorite method of walking (the treadmill in the air conditioned gym), and looked up at the silent row of TVs. 

Every TV station showed the same picture; the same words:  Robin Williams was dead.  And as so many others, I seemed to shut down.  I wanted to get off the treadmill and go home.  But the story that came out that week could not provide what we all longed to hear:  Bring him back to life!  Why would he?  Where is the answer?

And of course the noise of stories and opinions and unanswered questions continue.  Robin Williams was, and is, a national treasure.  But first, and last, he was a human being that only the closest of his loved ones could come close to knowing. 

My only two comments are:  depression is talked about; manic depression (or bi-polar disorder) is not so frequently talked about—and it should be.  And secondly, addictions and alcoholism are talked about, but the serious side effects of prescription drugs, especially antidepressants are not. 

If we have a loved one using prescription drugs, whether for asthma, diabetes, blood pressure, depression, or ANY other reason—we should understand the details of that medication and its common—and rare side effects.  Every prescription and over-the-counter drug has an impact on our body.  And for the aging, as well as the very young, the side effects are often magnified.

The noise got worse:  Missouri exploded into all the ugliness that is created by anger; by fear; by grief; by prejudice; AND by people behaving badly.  Racial is still a word that must be in our vocabulary; oh how I wish it were not so. 

We’ve watched the daily and nightly videos of a LOT of people behaving badly, some as not-so-peaceful protestors; and some as not-so-peaceful paid peacekeepers. 

I used to work with someone who’d frequently say “there’s plenty of stupid going around.”  But when the stupid becomes violent; when the stupid involves loss of life; threats to life; damage to property and chaos, I am overwhelmed by the noise. 

And the only thing that seemed to dampen the noise of Americans (on American soil) behaving badly was the screaming noise of the age-old country-against-country-against-terrorism noise coming from the Middle East and other foreign soils.  And this noise seems to continue the same theme, rooted in hatred; fear; anger; grief and prejudice.  I have plenty of thoughts but nothing to blog-speak.

But a healthy life seems to seek music instead of noise. And so music began flowing back into my little neck-of-the-woods, reminding me of the goodness of people.  Two of my friends, Susan and Celia, contacted me and treated me to an evening out at a place called “Painting with a Twist”. 

Now I have NO artistic talent.  But for $35 dollars one can show up at an art studio, and with music playing, and with people laughing and talking, a non-artistic person can spend the evening painting, with no goal other than to have fun!  Bring-your-own drink, including alcohol, is allowed and encouraged. A fun-loving paint instructor provides some “guidance” but enforces no rules to hinder painting a blank canvas to one’s own liking. 

That one evening of paint and music was great fun: Laughing at myself; listening to music; and “dancing” as I painted.  All I could think about was what I’d give to have invited Robin Williams. “Painting with a Twist” is the perfect pill for depression.  

And this week the music (OK, maybe also noise) is growing stronger in my life.  The mandolin I ordered last spring finally arrived and was worth the wait!  I’m beginning my transition from mountain dulcimer to mandolin (not letting go of my beloved Mountain Dulcimer relationship).  But my fret-board fingertips are so sore from new-mandolin beginnings that it hurts to put my hands in warm water.  Wonderful excuse to leave dirty dishes!

And so now I look forward.  I’ll soon be in the field:  Hawks and Fall migration; cool breeze and binoculars; and Mother Nature welcoming me to join Her on long walks.  Mother Nature’s music is the best; the most complicated; and sometimes, the most tragic by human standards. 

But Mother Nature is never cowered by human noise.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Oystercatcher Body Art

I am particularly fond of American Oystercatchers.  These distinctive birds, with their large orangey-red bills and candy-corn eye rings, are extravagant with their nature-made body art!  And I’ll admit that some of my fondness for Oystercatchers has to do with the fact that they are exclusively coastal inhabitants.  I’ve got a soft spot for other Gulf Coasties. 

From my birding knothole, American Oystercatchers were, for many years, a reliable sighting on the East Beach of Galveston (along with the equally distinctive Black Skimmer).  But East Beach was terribly decimated with Hurricane Ike, and seems both of these species have taken a liking to the more protected bayside waters offered by the Texas City Dike.
This particular Oystercatcher that caught my eye, on a May-day Dike trip, sported three leg bands.  If I knew more about the banding, I’d share.

The Houston Audubon Society’s website provides a high level summary of banding, oriented toward tracking movement and numbers of birds, which makes sense.  But the web link they include, for more detailed information, is a “broken” link to a web page “for sale”—so I stopped that search.  If anyone knows the specifics of these bands, I’d love to hear from you.

What I really wanted to mention with these photos is not the banding, but the unique “body art” that seems somewhat “over the top” in terms of bill and eye-area marking.  The Oystercatcher is mostly a black and white bird (with girly-pink legs).  But they proudly display a neon bright bill and eye marking that makes photographic development difficult!  Can't you just imagine the heads that would turn if these birds walked through shopping malls alongside groups of human teenagers?

And so as often happens when I’m watching birds, my thoughts turn to humans and human behavior.

I find the human age-old love for body art to be fascinating.  I personally have no tattoos.  I have no body piercings except for an earring hole in each ear (that has probably closed up as I haven’t worn ear rings since retiring).  Last time I put on ear rings and looked in the mirror, I looked ridiculous.  (And this statement is coming from a woman who sports a huge, funny-looking hat whenever in the sun.)

I’m amused by the strong opinions I hear from others about tattoos and body piercing.  I’ve listened to a number of different women, wearing a boat-load of face paint (makeup), express a particular tisking about the wrongness of tattoos.  I mostly keep my mouth shut.  But sometimes I offer up the concept of tattoos being makeup that the bearer doesn’t have to reapply every day.
I don’t hold any negative opinions about tattoos, unless of course, as with some bumper stickers, the intent is in some way a statement of meanness or prejudice.  But I don’t think that is the common intent of tattoos.  And I’m fascinated by the common intent!

So my fare warning to those openly sporting body art: don’t be surprised if I ask about it, with good-spirited interest!

A few weeks ago I was getting new eye glasses, and the lady fitting me was (I’d guess) in her mid-fifties.  She was sporting what looked like a brand-new tattoo on her forearm.  It looked like an infinity sign (sideways 8), but it had a number of “swirls” coming out of the curves.

You guessed it, I asked her about it.  Well, Athena, as I learned her name, was delighted to tell me about it!  And what a story:  she has five female friends that go all the way back to high school.  Some are married; some divorced; some always single.  The six of them consistently get together each year, for all these years, and visit different places in the U.S.

The six female friend’s most recent get-together was in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  And all six ladies, in their mid-fifties, lined up for their very first tattoos.  They  requested a tattoo of an infinity symbol to represent their eternal friendship; and six swirls coming out of it, one for each of the six friends.  How cool is that!

What I’d give to have five life-long friends; but what they’d have to accept about me is that I’d NOT have lined up for the tattoo.  Not because of any moral or social or otherwise issues; but ONLY because I have terribly sensitive skin, and so I’d be THE ONE to have a reaction to the dye.  (And then there is the fact that I’m terribly wrinkled which doesn’t make my skin a great canvas for body art!)

I will share my ONE opinion on this topic; my opinion has to do with “young people” wanting body art as a form of rebellion or protest of their childhood home.  I consistently tell them two things:  First, wait until you are purchasing the tattoo or piercing on YOUR nickel, that YOU earn when you ALREADY have to pay for a roof over your head and food in your belly.  

Living with mom and dad, or other care giver, and using allowance or work or gift money doesn’t count.  Earn your taxable income; pay your way for a roof over your head, and then get that tattoo if you like. 

My point to teens, in past years working with them, is that the “popular” acts of “rebellion” are market and advertising driven.  Those tattoos and piercings cost money.  Those boy-band hairstyles with mousse-loaded hair cost money.  Makeup and such costs money. 

When was the last time that something as “rebellious” as teenage girls STOPPING the shaving of their legs was a popular statement of teenage rebellion?  Well, never.  Why?  The market would never advertise NOT shaving legs or arms as cool acts of rebellion.  No razors, no shaving cream, no lotions or such to sale.  No; nature-made body art would not be marketed.

When I have opportunity, I just ask young folks to think about it before spending money on self expression.  And I ask WE old folks to see the beauty in personal expression, when no harm or waste or mean spirit is to be found.

And if we have opportunity to lift up a young person’s angst, with a listening spirit and gentle heart, maybe we can get them to think OUT OF the box—that their rebellion is often marketed by advertising, for profit.

Such are the thoughts that run through my head, quietly watching the beautifully unique body art of a Gulf Coastie:  the American Oystercatcher.

Have a wonderfully self-expressed day!