Brian's Journal - May 2009

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Yellow-rumped Warbler
05/10/2009 sunny, near 70 Yard bird photos
Beautiful weather this weekend. I spent much of it in the garden, preparing beds. All I managed to plant was potatoes, partly because they're so easy to plant and partly because I kept running across them as I was digging the garden and felt sorry for uprooting them with their new sprouts just breaking into the sunlight. As a crop they don't make much sense for a small garden like mine - they take a lot of room and I generally only get a few meals out of them. Unlike zucchini, which also take lots of room but which feed us almost daily from mid-July to mid-October.
With mornings getting light by 5:30, I haven't been able to sleep in despite staying up nearly until midnight. I was doing very well for a few days, getting to bed by 10AM for the first time all year after camping out at Saddle Mountain, but bedtime seems to slip by a half hour every night until I'm back in my habit of staying up late. Anyhow, Saturday morning the maple tree by the corner of the back porch was full of warblers so I sat out there with my camera and tried to get photos of them.
Orange-crowned warbler
Warbling Vireo
I did manage to get a few decent though distant shots but it took me several hours to warm up again after I came in. Sunday morning I dressed more warmly and got more photos, including a first-ever yardbird - a black-throated gray warbler, along with several warbling vireos and orange-crowned warblers. The nice thing about using the camera is that I can study their appearance at my leisure rather than trying to chase after glimpses through binoculars. The differences between the vireos and the orange-crowned warblers didn't become apparent to me until I examined my photos.

David's Clematis
05/17/2009 sunny, 77 Wheezer Obituary
Another beautiful weekend. Daniel and David finished school and came home for the summer. Nearly fifteen weeks ahead with no homework, no papers and few responsibilities. Today David brought Monica, a climbing friend, home and Swee fixed a nice lunch - baked eggplant and garlic bread - which we ate at the new wrought-iron table for four on the back deck in the sunshine.
White-crowned Sparrows mating
Yesterday, and Friday morning too, I sat on the back porch and took more bird photos - missed a few a good shots but got a few too. The best one I missed was a close-up of the male black-headed grosbeak on a sunny branch; the chestnut-backed chickadees drove him off just a second before I could get the lens on him. But on the other hand, I did capture the white-crowned sparrows having sex, and photographed the goldfinch pair as well as a Nashville warbler which I didn't realize I'd seen until I looked at the photo.
Digging Wheezer's grave
Wheezer
When we arrived home yesterday Wheezer was lying on his side out in the sun with his legs extending uphill and his eye wide open, staring at the sun. "Wheezer's dead," I said. After lunch David and I rolled him into the wheelbarrow (I rolled, David took pictures) and wheeled him up the driveway to the garden path. I chose that site for his burial because the topsoil is deeper there than anywhere else on the property. It took about an hour to dig a 2'x4' hole about 5' deep and another hour to cover him up. Striper didn't show any sign of missing his former significant other until this afternoon when he began bawling after David and Monica walked by on their way down toward the river. He wasn't hungry and he wasn't caught in the fence and he stopped as soon as he could see me out on the back porch, so I think he was lonely. I find myself noticing Wheezer's absence too, not that I'm particularly sad; just that it doesn't seem right to have only one goat.

05/18/2009 AM ovc 55, PM sunshine, evening rain
After a quiet day yesterday we had lots of warblers around today - all Yellow, Wilson's and Townsend's. As soon as I went out on the back porch this morning I spotted two singing Yellow Warblers in the maple tree and heard another one singing nearby. When I came back out with the camera all I could find were Wilson's Warblers, the Yellows having moved north to the fir trees and out of sight. I did get several shots of the Black-headed Grosbeak, a one-eyed male Brown-headed Cowbird and the resident robin. Hearing Wilson's's singing out towards the driveway I decided to try the living room window by the swallow box. Good decision - during several sessions over the next couple of hours I
Wilson's Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
took about 500 photos of mostly female Townsend's and male Wilson's warblers, some of them only about six feet away. Unfortunately almost all of the shots were motion-blurred; I shoot at F11 which on an overcast morning means shutter speeds generally between 1/30 and 1/100 at ISO 500, not fast enough to stop active warblers. Still, I managed to get a few really good images, far better than any previous photos I've taken of warblers. I noticed that the two species generally seemed to divide up the foraging
area - the Townsend's out near the tips of the branches and the Wilson's more towards the interior of the spruce tree, though there was some overlap. On the maple tree all the warblers forage out in the flower/leaf clusters at the tips of the branches. I wish now that I'd tried to photograph the Orange- crowned Warblers from the living room window because they often foraged in the spruce. I heard them singing around the house all last week but they seem to have moved on, along with the Yellow-rumped, because I didn't see or hear either species this morning.
On another bird note, we seem to have three species of swallows nesting around the house this year - Tree swallows in a box in the garden, Violet-green in the box at the corner of the living room and Barn swallows in the carport. Several times while I had my camera sticking out the living room window one or the other of the Violet-green swallows hovered in front of my lens - too close for a photo at 300mm.
With all the distractions at home I didn't get to work until 2PM. I spent 5 hours on a series of queries mapping the exclude reasons associated with about 400,000 files over to about 5,000 subdirectories in which those files reside. Finished the queries but didn't make any progress on my primary task - documenting the system. As I told David, who had three papers to write last week, my job this week is writing a 10 page paper about the system I've built. He asked if anyone would read it; I told him probably not, but it still had to be good.

Yellow Warbler
Tree Swallow
05/21/2009 Sunny, 70
I didn't get to work very early today, distracted in the morning by photographing birds again. Once there I had a productive day though, wrote about a third of the user guide which I had intended to work on yesterday until a serious performance issue with processing subdirectory exclusions cropped up. I spent all day adding a step to the file load to parse out and store all subdirectories and file-subdirectory associations for all files in the load so I could do a direct match on subdirectory rather than using like, which turned out to be painfully slow when the number of subdirectory exclusions began to grow. Parsing the subdirectories for a million files takes 10 minutes or so, but doing so accelerated the calculation of subdirectory exclusions for 5000 subdirectories from several days to several seconds.
Yellow warblers have been singing in the maple tree for the past three days but today was the first time I've been able to get photos of them. For some reason they're harder to spot and track in the tree than the other warblers, though their song is among the loudest of them all. I finally got my best shots from the roof - wish I'd tried that for the other warblers too but that will have to wait until next year. On the roof I'm almost right in the crown of the maple. While I was up there I tried to get photos of the swallows in flight but that will take more practice. The trick seems to be to track with my free eye, keeping the lens hood an inch (measured at the hood) behind the flying bird and just trust that as I do so, the bird will be in the viewfinder. The Tree Swallow makes it easier for me by sitting on the post in the garden near their box, where the female is on eggs.

Flowering Currant
Sword Fern
Yellow Violet
05/22/2009 Sunny, 72 West Tiger
Last day of work, though I didn't work much and it actually isn't my last day. I'm returning the week of the 15th-19th ofJune, and in the meantime I still have to finish the user's guide over the next few days. But today Jeff and I hiked up Tiger and David and Monica joined us. Monica spent the night even though both Daniel and Susan had a stomach bug. She didn't have anywhere else to go for the day between finishing her Outdoor Leadership training course and her flight home to Delaware, and she likes it here.
Gray Jay
Winter Wren
After falling a bit behind Jeff and me on the way up the cable line trail, David turned left onto the TMT instead of continuing straight up. We were on the summit when he called on his cell phone, having realized that he was probably lost. I told him to return the way he came and we would meet him at the car, and we did. We were a little late getting Jeff back to work but he didn't seem to mind too much. I spent about a half hour in the office then we ate supper at the Indian restaurant next to Performance Cycle, where I bought a few things while we waited for the restaurant to open for supper. We lingered so long over supper that we followed Monica's airport shuttle down our road and up our driveway. In just 9 minutes we got her packed up and on her way.

Pond Lily
05/23/2009 Sunny, 72 Rattlesnake Lake
In the morning I drove out to Rattlesnake Lake to meet with the biologist there, who also coordinates event usage of the Recreation Area. He suggested that I consider having my start and finish at the Iron Horse State park trailhead so as to avoid having to get a City of Seattle permit. We drove over and looked at the parking lot - 57 stalls not including the lightly-used horse trailer parking area. If I have about 70 runners and used the upper gravel lot of the Rattlesnake Lake parking area as overflow that might work. There were a couple of reasonably good places where we could have our finish area and serve lunch. We tried calling the state park but received no answer; budget cutbacks have made the remaining employees hard to reach.
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Warbling Vireo
Afterwards I wandered around with my camera trying to photograph birds. I managed a photo of a red-breasted sapsucker and a couple of a warbling vireo but missed more than I got. I followed gated gravel roads in from down the road a couple hundred yards from the Rattlesnake parking entrance, passed a brushy marsh with lots of Swainson's thrushes, then back up towards the mountains to another wetland, a shallow pond surrounded by old alders with Salmonberry understory. Hooded Merganser and Mallards, maybe a Gadwall, out on the water and Warbling Vireos, Wilsons Warblers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, robins, Yellowthroats around the edges. I skulked through the Salmonberry feeling frustrated by my inability to move quietly but enjoying the sunshine and the new foliage of spring nonetheless. On the east side of the wetland I found a path and followed it south up onto the Iron Horse trail maybe a third of a mile above the trailhead. Shortly before I reached the parking area, after pausing to photograph a towhee, I heard a peregrine kakking overhead but couldn't spot it. Based
Wilson's Warbler
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
on the direction the sound came from, the bird was some distance east or even northeast from the ledge so maybe it was alarmed by an eagle and not by the colorful crowd on top of the cliff.
After lunch I hung out on the back porch and was eventually rewarded with a couple of opportunities for close-ups of Wilson's Warblers in the maple tree. That seems to be the only warbler still around. Towhees, Song sparrows, Chestnut-backed chickadees and a flock of young House Sparrows also visited the feeder. A Starling flew in several times but left hastily upon spotting me.

Daniel & David on top
Daniel & David hiking up
05/26/2009 AM ovc 50, PM partly cloudy, 70 Mt Pete
On David's insistence Daniel and I hiked up Mt Pete with him today. We didn't head over there until after lunch when the clouds had thickened and scattered gray curtains of rain had begun to drop off to the southwest. We did a loop on the back side, up to the right and down the old road along the west side of the "mountain". I carried my camera in hopes of finding some birds and did - a White-crowned Sparrow on the way up and a Wilson's Warbler on the way down. The Wilson's call was unfamiliar, a loud, thick "chk", but the bird itself was quite unwary. A Bald Eagle soared overhead as we returned to the car.
Forest near the summit
Serviceberry flowering
It seems as though everything is blooming right now. The yellow Scotch Broom is at its peak along Mud Mountain Road at the trailhead. Wild blackberry, strawberry, thimbleberry and chokecherry(?)are all flowering in the open areas along the lower part of the trail and serviceberry is blooming around the summit. I also noticed a nice magenta/purple wild pea and bluish-purple Penstemon along the first part of the road up.
On the way home I had David drive so I could take photos out the passenger side window. We stopped for fields bright yellow with buttercups and along 464th where I noticed Lazuli Buntings singing on Sunday when I rode past on my bike. I found the Lazuli Bunting foraging and singing in the ditch along the side of the road, so close it startled me and I scared it up into the cottonwoods. Fortunately it dropped down again, still singing, so I was able to find it and get a few pictures. That was a nice surprise; I didn't expect to get anywhere near it.
White-crowned Sparrow
Wilson's Warbler
Mourning Dove
Lazuli Bunting

 
05/27/2009 Sunny, 70 
The cat tangled with an oppossum and lost. She has a shunt on her rump to facilitate draining of her bite wounds back there and while the shunt is in place, she has to wear a collar like a plastic megaphone around her neck. Not only does it prevent her from disturbing the shunt, but it also gets caught on the door mouldings when she tries to slink around corners. She's clearly puzzled about it but doesn't lose her temper. Rather than board her at the vet's during our trip to New Hampshire, we decided that Susan would stay home to take care of her so just the boys and I will go to visit my folks.
Hannah came up to visit Daniel on her way to see a friend in Seattle. Susan baked a lemon meringue pie for the occasion and we had sat at our new wrought iron table from Costco and ate a nice lunch in the sunshine. Afterwards David and I photographed flowers around the yard. Daniel is starting to take more of an interest in photography too. He's using David's D40 so we won't put it up for sale on eBay just yet.
 


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