Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tommy Get Your Gun

It's not a gun, it's a weapon! 

Call if a gun, and they'd make us drop for twenty. 

Twenty pushups. 

Just got home from work in the ER. Same crazy shit. Kids with fevers, and young guys who wipe out while pursuing sports glory, and break something. I'm sitting in the living room at the computer, writing this in my underwear, while the wife, two kids, and the Basset Hound (who has taken up permanent residence on my Archie Bunker lazy boy TV-watching chair) are all snoring. The zebra finches are eyeing my hairy shoulders nervously from the empty I Can't Believe It's Not Butter plastic cup that is the nest inside their cage. Their "nest" is lined with lint from our drier.

So I ran into E, today, and he invited me to go shooting with him, tomorrow morning.  I said "Fifty-fifty chance I'll show up."

Here's the conundrum: 

(1) The wife wants to go up into the mountains, to play in the snow with the kids.  I don't want her to go because (a) the Jeep has a blown ball bearing in the front right wheel, and the 4-wheel drive won't shift into gear.  In plain English, it's undriveable. (b) After she slides off the 138 or the 2 she won't be able to call for help because she washed her jeans this morning, and didn't bother to remove that nice Motorola flip phone of hers.  Yes, I spent 10 minutes pointing a blow drier at the phone.  It's a gonner.  Dead. Kaput.  Koniec.  Muerte.

(2) E's spot where he fires his M-16 is at low elevation in the very same mountains where the wife wants to go.  I don't want to be a hypocrite--or even worse--a hypocrite who gets caught.

(3) The monthly Bonelli Bird Walk is also tomorrow morning at 08:00 and I would love to go birding with a crowd of birders who I never see.  And I'd like to get my hands on that ^&%#! Bald Eagle who only shows up when I'm not there.  Watch...if I don't go, he'll show up.  Same goes for that rat bastard Black & White Warbler that has eluded me since November.

(4) The last time I fired an M-16 Ronald Reagan was president.  I don't mind waiting a month or two longer, so that when I lay down in the prone firing position, I don't start shivering with the cold. 

(5) Last but deinitely not least:  I have serious concerns about one of us sliding off the road with the snow levels as low as they are, this weekend.  The Caltrans highway conditions report makes it look like we couldn't go even if we wanted to.  Bonelli might just be the safer i.e. smarter choice to make.

Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cassin you say Western Kingbird?


I guess he's a Cassin's Kingbird.  Click on the picture, and he'll pop up full-sized on your screen.  He was lighter than this photo shows:

The angle makes him look smaller ie.e younger than he is i.e. like a fledgling.  This is merely foreshortening caused by the perspective from which I took the photo. 

His tail feathers had no buff tips like those of a Cassin's Kingbird, and no white edges, like those of a Western KIngbird.  The black lores are real.

The reason that you do not see the white chin spot of a Cassin's is that he does not have it: his face is the same homogeneous gray all over.  Like I said, he's lighter gray than the photo implies.

I suppose he's a Cassin's Kingbird who is moulting into spring plumage.  The book I should consult is buried under a pyle of books.  Get it?  A pyle of books?  Oh, I crack myself up, sometimes!

February 2011
Counting phalaropes on Lake Palmdale with 7X35 binoculars:
Katona Istvan (left and Varga Csaba (right)

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Stupid Basset Hound. It's all her fault.

Collectively, both my and my wife's backs went out, from sleeping on an old, lumpy Queen-sized bed i.e. mattress that needed to go two years ago.  So a week ago we went to Sears, and looked at beds.  Why not just get a new mattress?  Well, if you're gonna fork over that much money, you might as well get a bigger e.g. a King-sized bed; so we picked one with a nice, hard mattress that will support our backs.

So far, so good.  During the week that we will have to wait for the delivery, I resort to sleeping on the floor, to avoid waking up with a backache.  Sometimes I crash on the couch, but that only works if I meticulously arrange the pillows in a configuration that will support my lumbar spine.  The process of placing and aligning the pillows correctly requires the patience and skill of an origami master.

The Sears sales lady told us that we would get a phone call on Tuesday night, after 6:00 p.m., which would inform us what time the delivery guys would swing by on Wednesday, so I had to tell my boss, "I don't know, maybe I'm coming to work, maybe I'm staying home, maybe I'll have to leave early. I don't's a mystery...I'll let you know when I find out."

Isn't that nice?

So Monday night we get an automated phone call from Sears tellling us that we will receive a phone call Tuesday night, which will be the phone call.  I spent the rest of Monday night disassembling the old Queen-sized bed, and hauling all of its components out to the recycling bin, where I leave it out in the open.  Hey, if somebody would like a perfectly good wooden bed made out of Norwegian pine, hand-crafted by nordic elves at an Ikea factory, they're welcome to it.  I finished at 2:00 a.m., both hands covered in cuts and scrapes, dried blood all over them.

So of course, they never called on Tuesday.

Now it's late Tuesday night, Sears is closed for the day, and we're rummaging through the paperwork to see what that phone number is.  The only phone number on the receipt is for the local Sears at the mall, where we bought the mattress.  Fine, I'll call them tomorrow morning, and see if I get lucky, and can go to work.

Next morning we all wake up, I drive the kids to school, and park at the train station.  Sitting in the car, I call up Sears, hoping that they might be open, and someone will tell me to stay home.  I get a computer that tells me that the store is closed, but one of the options is "push 4 for deliveries" and it turns out that I could have called last night, and gotten the same information: they are coming between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

Between 11:00 and 1:00 ???  Are you people out of your &^%$! minds? 

That is the perfect time of the day to completely rob somebody of a productive day.  There would have been no point in going in and leaving early, and dittto for going in late and leaving late.  Sears wants me to sacrifice a whole day of my life, so that they can deliver one piece of furniture.

I don't think so.

So I called back, and talked to an operator, a very nice-sounding lady who was clearly in the Phillipines, despite her pseudo-WASPish name. I think she claimed to be Charlize Theron or Charlene Tilton.  Needless to say, the phone line was horribly staticy, and I had to keep shouting at her to repeat everything, and of course her idea of repeating something wasn't to repeat that one word that I didn't hear: she would repeat everything, and when she got to that one word I had never heard the first time, of course the line would fade out again, and I would miss that same word again, and we repeated this torture over and over and over again until my head was spinning.

So she asks me when I would like to re-schedule. 


"Okay," she says, "I'll have the drivers call you up."

I tell her, "They need to call me up right now.  Right away.  I am on the train, going in to L.A., and I need to know when I need to leave work."  You see, at this point I already suspected that Sears had a serious Charley Foxtrot going on, so I headed to work.

Two and a half %^&$! hours later my cell phone rings with a 909 area code phone number.  The caller identifies himself as the delivery truck's driver.  He indignantly huffs that he is in my driveway, and how come I'm not there to let him in?

Maybe because your momma didn't have any children that lived?

So, having spent two hours at USC (But  damn, they were two productive hours.  Probably the most productive meeting I've been to in 2 or 3 years.  We hashed out what's wrong with one of our programs, and sketched out the changes we're going to make.), I ran up the hill, hopped on the bus to Union Station, and caught the 12:20 (noon) train home.

Got home to Claremont, and had enough time to haul the old mattress out into the driveway, re-arrange the furniture in the bedroom, vacuum the room, and re-rearrange the furniture.  Awsome.  My back is feeling pretty good today, so I am vacuuming with vigor, gusto, and panache.

Riiippp!  I am squatting, one hand firmly gripping the vacuum cleaner, and my pants rip in half.

At the crotch.

In front.

The Sears guys show up.  One of them rings my front door, one of them rings my back door, and one calls my cell phone.

All at the same time.

Me and the Basset Hound are running around in circles, chasing our tails.

They broguht everything in, assembled it, and within minutes I had a bed the size of the USS Enterprise's landing deck set up.  Tonight I will sleep like a king.

The phone rings.

"Hi Tom, it's X, your neighbor."
"Hi, X!"
"Hey, listen, Tom.  I know you and your wife...well um...there's a really nice wood bed out by the recycling bin.  You guys should go out and grab it, before it's gone."

I'm pretty sure a jury would have acquitted me.

All right, everybody leave.  I'm going birding.  I drive to Prado to look for a Bald Eagle that's supposedly really easy to find.  It's raining, so they have closed the park, and locked the gates.  After half an hour of standing outside the locked gate, staring at the lake, and praying that the Bald eagle will fly by, I give up, and drive home.

Boy, I am really looking forward to sleeping in our new, firm bed.

The wife shrieks, "You're not sleeping on that bed until we buy a mattress protector.  If we don't use one, it'll invalidate the warranty!"

So let me get this straight: I pay $2,000 for a new bed, and you want me to put a plastic or rubber sheet on it that will make me hot, sweaty, and itchy?


The wife hisses, "I'll find one that fits the requirement, but doesn't make us sweat.  Better yet, you go out to the store.

I do not want to go to the ^&%$! store to look for some obscure item that nobody has, and will have me driving all over California on a dark, rainy night.  I am tired. I worked my ass off this weekend in the ER, I was up until 02:00 removing the old bed, and dammit, I want to sleep in my new $2,000 bed, because I am tired of sleeping on the floor!

So I slept on the floor in the kids' room.

Oh, wait, let me back up:  Remember when I lost my wallet last summer?  Well, I can't find my wallet.  So I check the car.  Twice.  I check my brown courduroy sport coat.  Twice.  I check my backpack.  Thrice.
"All right, well the rain has stopped, I'll walk the dog to Starbucks, where I bought you a mocha last night, so you could stay up, doing school work.  Hopefully, I left my wallet there."
She says, "No, just call them up."  She gets their number off the internet.  The phone rings and rings and rings.  No answer.

I know why they don't answer the phone at that Claremont Starbucks on Indian Hill Blvd off the 10 Freeway:
Because that tall kid with enough hair to supply a village of bald men is always on the phone, and yes, it's a personal phone call, because I eavesdrop on his conversations while he's making my drinks. 
Every time.

So I grab the Basset Hound, and walk her under the 10 Freeway to Starbucks. 

Did I mention that that freeway underpass, with all of the cars honking, and making left turns scare the shit out of her?  My dog Gina is neurotic.  She doesn't bite mail men; mail men bite her.  So I get to Starbucks, and instead of firmly securing her leash to the rail, like I always do, I just casually drape the loop of her leash to the door handle.

Bad idea.

I walk up to the Starbucks counter, and I can't get the tall kid's attention, because HE'S ON THE &^%$! PHONE, AS USUAL.

A cute girl with a smokin' hot body jumps up, and says, "Oh,  look at that cute dog!!!"

Yeah, that happens now that I am married, and have kids.  Where was she when I was single, and lonely???

So of course she opens the door, the loop of the dog's leash falls off the door knob, and the Basset Hound takes off like a bat out of hell. I am wearing red shorts, white sneakers, and a camouflage Bundeswehr German army jacket (they are warmer and lighter than American rain gear).  It is commuting-home-from-work time, and there are zillions of cars, everywhere.  The dog is now running up Indian Hill Blvd, crossing red lights all over the place, and I am running after her, full tilt.  You have never seen a fat guy run that fast in your life.  If anybody filmed it with their cell phone, please post it on Youtube, so that the NFL can offer me a job.  I have speed and bulk.

A hundred yards into the chase the drawstring on my shorts gave way, and my pants fell off.  Now I'm running while holding onto my pants.

I lost Gina.

Oh, shit.  My wallet's missing, I can't sleep on my ^&%$! $2,000 bed, and now I lost my dog.

I call home, and when Lisa answers, I scream, "LISA, OPEN THE DOOR RIGHT NOW!!!"

I get home ten minutes later, and the Basset Hound is sitting on the living room carpet.  She looks at me with an expression that says, "Where ya been?"

Stupid dog ran straight home, and ran through the open door, past Lisa, into the house.

I'm tellling you, she doesn't like the 10 Freeway.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snap, Grackle, Pop

Okay, so this is a Common Grackle:

And this is a Great-tailed Grackle:

So...what's the bird on the right?
Look at how different their bill shapes are.
There was another Great-tailed Grackle with this weird bill shape on the lawn (that male had a larger tail).

Bonus bird.  Take a good look, before they go extinct in California, or at least, in LA County:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Wild Goose Chase

Well, it's January, time to study ducks, geese, and gulls in the arctic California winter.  So I slapped on shorts and a t-shirt, and headed out.  Weird Goose Number One hangs out at Earvin Magic Johnson Park.  Clearly, this bird is half Anser and half Branta. 
I called it half Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)-half Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons).  Norm Vargas says that looking at the shape of the bird's size, and how at rest its tail points upwards, he thinks the bird is half Graylag Goose (Anser anser).  This appears to match Kevin McGown's pictures of hybrid geese on the East Coast.

For comparison, here are a Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii leucopareia  (formerly the tiny race of Canada Goose) and a Greater White-fronted Goose feeding among the Canada Geese in the same flock at Magic Johnson Park:
Notice on the Canada Goose in the bottom left of the photo, below, that its head and bill have different proportions, and the actual shape of its head is different.  On Canadas, the bill slopes continuously with the face, while on Cackling, the bill sticks out from the face:

I just had a pair of Cackling Geese calling in flight at Legg Lake, and they sound really different from the familiar Canada Goose call.  For a well-produced in-depth recording that compares their sounds, click here.

And now, for a Weird Gull

Start counting gulls that are standing up along the edge of the concrete wall, ready to jump into the water.  The 2nd one from the left puzzled me for the following reasons:  Yes, he sorta kinda looked like a Western Gull, and he was in the middle of a flock of Western Gulls of various ages, but his body was noticeably smaller than the other Western Gulls, and his bill size and shape was proportionately smaller and thinner (even when compared to other immature Western Gulls).  Any thoughts?

Weird Goose Number Two really threw us for a loop.  We were on an organized field trip at Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, which is inside an active U.S. Navy base.

We were looking at a large flock of Canada Geese a couple hundred yards in the distance, partially obscured by a grassy knoll that was two or three feet high.  Susan Gilliland and I simultaneously noticed a swan among the geese.  The swan had a white head and neck, with a black bill.  Looking at the size of the bird's body, and its bill's shape, we assumed it was a Tundra Swan, and not a larger Mute or Trumpeter Swan.  It would stick its head up, look around, and duck back down.  We drove closer, and stayed inside the van, to avoid spooking the birds away.  These pictures were taken through the tinted glass side window of the van:
 If you can't see the bird very well, click on the photo, and it will come up on a separate page, in a larger size.  Here's another one of the same bird:
I have no idea if this Canada Goose is merely a leucistic genetic mutant, or merely a hybrid.

Hey, there was a Reddish Egret on base:
The bushes on the left side of the picture below held Belding's and Large-billed Savannah Sparrows, along with at least one Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.  The previous week, three Nelson's were seen.

View is looking northeast, towards 10,000 foot high Mount Baldy, 56 miles away.  Well, okay, it's actually 10,068 feet high.