Saturday, December 26, 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all our friends in Blogland

This post deviates from the norm in that it is the Christmas greeting that we bogged down in sending as a personal message to our friends.  A few got them, but only a few before Christmas day arrived on our doorstep.  

From her guilty look, Karen and I believe the attached photo is of the author. 

Peck Peck,   Peck Peck  Peck

Oh Hi, it’s me, Stella the Steller (Jay that is)

I’ve hung around this “squirrel cage” too long.  I should fly to someplace warm for the winter — where it doesn’t rain every day.  Yet, I’m like Adam and his fondness for apple pie, and there’re these peanuts.  Buckets of them!

The grouch complains my pecking on the window  — to alert him there are no peanuts — wakens him too early or during his naps (when he’s recovering from my 3:00 AM alarm).  How else would they know the situation is dire?  Besides, when a Stellers Jay is UP, the whole world should be UP.

Sitting at the gentle lady’s window sills where she feeds me, my growing family, cousins, second uncles and other relatives as well as those annoying squirrels, I happened to notice what transpires inside that glass.  Not much!

In fact, absolutely nothing for awhile last winter.  All I saw was a ticket receipt mentioning Sierra Vista, Arizona.  Of course!  It’s famous for birds.  The grouch said the area virtually bristles with old people walking around with binoculars exclaiming about feathered critters I’ve never heard of — nor had they.  Fast becoming bird experts without binoculars, the grouch and gentle lady photographed every moving creature — including the bird watchers.  Back at their new favorite winter hang out, Rail Oaks Ranch, they downloaded the photos to see what they were so excited about seeing.  “Drat — just another brown bird.”  And how the gentle lady could mistake a swarm of a thousand killer bees for a bird baffles me.   She says, “They were moving.” 

I spotted a ticket receipt for a ferry ride to Haines (Alaska) in May.  They and a friend (Brian Paust) stayed 24-miles out the road to escape the crowds — near Canada where they made sorties into alpine country.  There, the gentle lady who can’t get enough of bears, showed her mettle.  Bravely focusing on the rump of a grizzly, perhaps a quarter mile away, she lost her composure when it started running kind of towards our car — apparently running from another bear.  Never mind that we were encased in a 3455 pound steel enclosure not counting the weight of the three occupants and their cameras.  That’s why no images of a “charging” (OK — fleeing) grizzly are among the 57,951 photos and 214 videos downloaded onto this machine.  The grouch’s ears are still ringing from the gentle lady’s admonitions to FLEE.

Returning from Canada an apologetic customs agent confiscated one organic orange.  Rules are rules and Washington bureaucrats figure fruit purchased in Haines might get infested with fruit flies during a couple of hours on the frozen Canadian tundra.  We felt safer after that.  He never queried us about fruit during subsequent re-entries — nor did we have any.  Both he and the grizzly were friendlier than a TSA official who considered the grouch a security threat because he forgot to take off his belt at the Tucson airport.  Would he rather have the grouch’s pants fall down in the X-ray machine?

In August ticket stubs showed the gentle lady flew to Iowa to see her cousin while the grouch explored the Olympic Peninsula with his brother.  There, the grouch learned his head needs a shoe if he’s going to use it as a foot.

Meanwhile, the gentle lady headed “up north” with cousin Connie — to Wisconsin’s Four Mile Lake.  The lasses borrowed kayaks from the Pfeffers to explore every bay and inlet of the lake — on the surface anyway.  Why am I not surprised that they adopted a family of otters — or was it vice versa?

She got a new camera in August and now continually sneaks up on me, my kin or anything else with fur or feathers.  She’s really fond of the rodent clan, especially squirrels and porcupines.  The later remind her of the grouch — except they’re cute and more personable (the porcupines that is).

Occasionally the grouch makes marks on this pecking machine.  He calls it a blog.  That’s where to get their real news (sort of).  It has the catchy address:  Even the grouch who memorizes their credit card number the day after a new one replaces the old — when it gets stolen in cyberspace (3-times this year) — can’t remember their blog address. 

I counted four different humanoids inside their “cage” this year.  Mandy, now a full-fledged Seattle nurse turned up last Christmas.  David, who can repair anything with wires going into it and deliver a pizza without sampling it first arrived shortly afterwards.  And Tamia, who can drive an 18-wheeler and dip net Dungeness crabs (OK, not simultaneously) came for Petersburg’s 4th of July celebration.  Since it was their second anniversary, she brought along her hubby (Cash Philo) who can make an airplane actually fly. 

Squawk!  Someone’s on the stairs.  I’m out of here.

Oh no, peanut shells on our key board — and, what’’s with this gibberish?   Wait!  Fact checking tells me something is missing.  There’s no mention of Christmas, it’s often forgotten meaning and it being merry.  We sure hope it is for all our friends — and these gluttonous jays, too.  We’ll have to fill a stocking with peanuts for them at 3:00 AM Christmas morning.

Dear Friends and Family:

The evergreen tree, which stays green all year, is such a beloved symbol  — reminding us all of life everlasting.  The gift of Jesus is not under the tree but wants to live in our hearts, to be shared all year long!

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone,but in
 every leaf in springtime.”
                                                 Martin Luther

In this world we live in there is great brokenness.  We are reminded of this every day as we listen to the news.  We despair and yet the gift of Christmas reminds us to hold steady and not give up — to respond to this broken world with the one thing that can defeat it — Jesus’ Love and His message.

Lord, listen to your children praying
Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
Lord ,listen to your children praying.
Send us Love, send us Pow’r, send us Grace.

We pray that all of you have the most blessed and wonderful Christmas.


Don and Karen

                                                      Lots of evergreens trees on Petersburg Mountain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Memories and Birds

Maybe you saw me.  I was the kid under the cream-colored cowboy hat — fishing pole in hand, pedaling his red, one-speed American Flyer bicycle along US 40 during the Utah trout season — that is if you drove that route in the mid 1950s.  Interstate 80 has long since eliminated that section of highway and the portion of one of the two streams I fished now lies under concrete.  It’s the one up Parley’s canyon that everyone knew didn’t have fish — the one where I drifted nightcrawlers or flies beneath undercut banks in quest of those “nonexistent trout.”  My canvas creel was usually a bit slimy with our dinner when I bicycled home.

My other destination was the foothills above Salt Lake City where I’d kick around in the scrub oaks “hunting” for pheasants and quail.  I didn’t have a gun, but that didn’t curtail my thrill in the chase.  Sadly, that area, too, has long since disappeared under subdivisions and asphalt. 

When I turned 14 my desire to hunt with shotgun or rifle was satisfied — although not on those hillsides, but rather in the marshes along the Great Salt Lake.  However, I never enjoyed actually shooting a living creature — a feeling of remorse quickly erased my moment of satisfaction.  That all changed when I purchased a Yashica camera with a telephoto lens.  In 1964 graduate students in the University of Alaska’s wildlife department seemed to be ordering cameras from Hong Kong en mass.  I caught the bug, one of life’s fateful decisions that chartered a happy new course for me. 

That course lead to Karen and a mutual love of photography.   Soon, Karen “shot” past me in capturing the thrill of the hunt.  It seems that, while I always appeared as a threat to our quary — anything that moves — critters somehow sense the gentle side of Karen. 

This winter, with her new Canon Powershot SX50 camera, Karen has been particularly successful in “bringing home the bacon.”   But, don’t look for her on her new Trek gun-metal silver 10-speed bicycle wearing a cowboy hat.  You’ll be more successful in finding her hiding behind pilings on the docks in Petersburg’s boat harbor or hunkered down along the Wrangell Narrows shoreline — if you look really hard.  She’s not always very obvious — to critters or us humans.

      Eagle eyed Karen spotted this northern pygmy owl during one of our walks.  I would have walked right past it.

                                   We're suspect this song sparrow would satisfy the palate of the owl. 

                                Even larger birds like the Steller's jay might find itself on the owl's menu.

Another predator -- Yes, the American dipper, famous for walking on the bottom of streams to feed on aquatic insects, also catches fish -- even juvenile salmon.

               Black turnstones over-winter along southeast Alaska shorelines brightening up drab overcast days.

              A pair of male buffleheads cause us to marvel at the diverse plumage of male waterfowl species...

As does this pair of male common goldeneye ducks.  We were surprised to find this species of goldeney because we're more used to seeing...

Barrow's goldeneye.  I always thought the primary difference between the two was she shape of the white patch behind the bill.  However, comparing these two photos, there's much more.

Some people confuse harlequin duck males with wood ducks.  However, harlequins have a considerably different life history, nesting along mountain streams in which they feed and overwintering along coastal shorelines.  Don't look for wood ducks in any of those locations.

When most people think of wild ducks, one of the first species that come to mind are mallards.  Here Karen "captured" a male with his drab (to our eyes) mate.

You can see why this male American wigeon earned the species the name baldpate even though it's head is far from bald, but rather adorned with white feathers.

Speaking of hair dos, this female common merganser looking for it's next fish dinner sports a dandy, only to be outdone by her "cousin," the red-breasted merganser.  Karen still has her eye out  for that well as anything else that moves -- or even blows in the wind.