Saturday, June 28, 2014

San Simeon Pier - Pigeon Guillemot

San Simeon Pier
We just arrived back home in Fort Collins after ten days in California, including four days in Cambria. The trip to the Central California Coast was brief, along with one morning of window shopping in the Cambria, and two afternoons with the grandchildren at San Simeon Bay playing in the sand at William Randolph Hearst State Beach, I got  some birding in while everybody played in the sand. The most notable bird sighting for me were Pigeon Guillemot that were flying in and out of some
Pigeon Guillemot in flight
landing place under the pier. I was fortunate to get one shot with my camera from above on the pier that show a bird's wings extended and the distinctive white marking on the top side of the wings, and the extended red-colored legs. The birds beat their wings rapidly - they don't soar like the more graceful gulls suspended in air by the wind.

Assorted sea birds feasting
While trying to snap shots of the Pigeon Guilemots and Barn Swallows flying in and out of their resting places under the pier, Brown Pelican, assorted gulls, and Brandt's Cormorants made haste of small fish just beyond the off-shore kelp fields - diving pelicans and gulls swooping in to grab anything that didn't make its way into the pelican's mouths - the seascape the forescene to a backdrop of the golden coastline near San Simeon.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Northern Mocking - On Base Manuevers

Crow hazed by a Northern Mockingbird and Barn Swallow
The most visible land birds this trip to Point Mugu in mid-June have been Mourning Dove, American Crow, and Northern Mockingbird - quite different than in early-January. I also spotted Barn Swallows and hummingbirds, but don't know what species. It was interesting that when the crows fly, they are attacked in flight by the mockingbirds, and even the swallows - even by the two at the same time. It gave for a good aerobatics display - apropos for Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu. When not in flight, on the the birds sat at the top of a tree and did some vocalizations. The Audubon description for the Northern Mockingbird reports: This bird's beautiful song is richest on warm, moonlit nights in spring, when the bird may spend hours giving amazing imitations of other
Northern Mockingbird

species. The songs of 36 other species were recognized from the recording of one mockingbird in Massachusetts. Birds in the western part of the species' range have less musical songs and are less imitative. Mockingbirds are strongly territorial and, like a number of other birds, will attack their reflection in a window, hubcap, or mirror, at times with such vigor that they injure or kill themselves. At mating time, the male Northern Mockingbird becomes increasingly exuberant, flashing his wings as he flies up in an aerial display, or singing while flying from one song post to another. After breeding, each parent establishes and vigorously defends its own winter territory. Mockingbirds require open grassy areas for their feeding; thick, thorny, or coniferous shrubs for hiding the nest; and high perches where the male can sing and defend his territory.

Before the Gold Rush - South Platte River

South Platte River 
I have been reading, very slowly, Elliott West's The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado about the history of Colorado and the western Great Plains from the prehistoric human period through the later 19th Century. Watching the weekly establishment of new oil and natural gas wells along the Interstate 25 corridor north of Denver on the way to Wyoming, and the rolling hills covered with green wheat fields, I have wondered what the landscape looked like before the settlement period with its expansion of farms and ranches. West describes how the native tribes would cycle between the summer grasslands and river lowlands for winter - the riparian areas being protected and providing wood and grass for the long cold period along the Front Range of the Rockie Mountains. The natural resources in these areas were already being over-utilized when the gold seekers and accompanying settlers poured into the region, and helped push the tightly coupled producers and consumers over the edge.

The photograph above is an interpretation by my son of the South Platte River taken along the east side of the river just after going under West Mineral Avenue and over the foot bridge. The best place to park is by the Carson Nature Center behind Aspen Grove Shopping Center. The image looks a little like what things may have appeared before the gold rush - before nature was on the run After the Gold Rush.
After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor come
Sayin' somethin' about me
There were children singin' and drummers drummin'
The archer split the tree
There was a fanfare blowin' to the sun
That floated on the breeze
We got mother nature on the run, in the nineteen seventies
Look at mother nature on the run, in the nineteen seventies
I was lyin' in a burnt out basement
With the full moon in my eye
I was hopin' for a replacement
When the sun burst through the sky
There was a band playin' in my head
And I felt like getting high
Thinkin' about what a friend had said, I was hopin' it was a lie
Thinkin' about what a friend had said, I was hopin' it was a lie
Well, I dreamed I saw the silver spaceships flyin'
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children cryin' and colors flyin'
All around the chosen ones
All in a dream, all in a dream the loadin' had begun
We were flyin' mother nature's silver seed to a new home in the sun
Flyin' mother nature's silver seed to a new home

Saturday, June 14, 2014

An Estate With History - The Marshall Plan

Hôtel de Talleyrand
One of the venues where a gave my presentation a couple of times was a building once owned by the Rothchild family, that was then used by the German Gestapo headquarters during the occupation of Paris, and then which housed the offices of General George Marshall after World War II where the reconstruction plan for Europe was developed. The background narrative for Hotel Talleyrand from the World Monuments Fund describes the building as: Located at the heart of Paris near the Place de la Concorde, the Hôtel de Talleyrand is among the most important historic European buildings under the stewardship of the U.S. Department of State. This former grand residence was the site of the administration of 
the Marshall Plan, when the building was purchased by the U.S.
Engraved commemorative
government after World War II. Built between 1767 and 1769, the Hôtel de Talleyrand was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel and its interiors were designed by Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin, one of the most prominent architects in eighteenth-century France. The building is an exceptional example of architecture of the French Enlightenment, whose neoclassical interiors were only slightly altered during the time the Rothchild family occupied the building. Initially built for Compte de Saint-Florentin, Duc de la Vrillière, the structure was 

Bullet damage across the street
subsequently purchased in 1812 by Maurice de Talleyrand Perigord who used the site to receive heads of state and international dignitaries, marking the beginning of its lengthy history as a site of diplomatic activity. Following Talleyrand’s death, the residence was purchased by Baron James-Mayer de Rothschild and remained in the possession of his family until 1947, when it was purchased by the U.S. government. To this day, the building is used for receiving guests at diplomatic meetings, receptions, conferences, and cultural events.

General George Marshall
My hosts from the embassy gave me interesting other pieces of information about the building: it was purchased by the U.S. Government and is utilized by the Embassy for various official functions (examples being my presentation and a press briefing); there was a firefight at the site when the Allies retook Paris - bullet marks can be seen on the building wall to the north across the street; and there is a nice display of information inside about General Marshall and the reconstruction plan - his Nobel Prize medal is a part of the display.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Little Song, A Little Dance, .....

Friday's Pearls Before Swine 
....a little seltzer down your pants. I happened on an article in today's Washington Post pointing out that Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson had collaborated on three comic dailies of Pearls Before Swine this week - how reading the article and looking at the three
The last Calvin and Hobbes panel
panels that were included Wednesday through Friday made me smile and remember good humor. For some random reason I also thought about he episode of the old Mary Tyler Moore Show that featured the funeral of Chuckles the Clown. Even though it seems like there are none to match these today, good humor prevails.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Day Of The Grackle - Nevermore

The Grackle
Quoth the birder to the Grackle "Nevermore."

Once upon a morning sunshine, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious ways to feed my song birds —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came bird droppings,
As of some one gently dripping from above, digested worms and bugs.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "chasing off my song birds —
            Only this and nothing more." 

Quoth the birder to the Grackle "Nevermore." (1)

Common Grackles
We left much of our yard wares behind when we moved to Fort Collins, including our prized squirrel-proof bird feeder pole fitted with a raccoon baffle to keep the Eastern Gray Squirrels at bay. A week ago we installed a new pole in our Colorado backyard, fitted with a smaller squirrel baffle (the one that didn't work in Maryland), assured by the local Wild Birds Unlimited shop that the Red Squirrels here are not as nimble as their eastern cousins and should not be a problem.
Squirrel/Grackle-proof bird feeder
What we found out fairly quickly was that Common Grackle are the Great Plains pest when it comes to unprotected bird feeders - not only do they still overcome the squirrel-proof mechanism of our Squirrel Buster birder feeder. So today, we headed off to the bird store and invested in a new feeder with a fitted squirrel-proof cage, not to thwart local squirrels who haven't paid any attention to our feeder, but to save the seed and feeding positions for the song birds who have been spooked by their larger black-feathered companions.

American Robin droppings
The only other notable observation as we begin our birding efforts in Colorado, is when you have a tree over your patio, it is necessary to cover furniture, tables, and yourself when enjoying the outdoors between thunder storms. American Robins do a wonderful job of singing high in the tree, and must be reading the newspaper while waiting for nature to run its course. Table or patio umbrellas are fine for protection, but it is important not to delay setting them up when taking in the morning sunshine.

(1) Adopted from Edgar Allan Poe's, The Raven.