Tomorrow is Cornell Lab’s Global Big Day, where thousands of birders go out and try to spot as many different species as they can. I’ve had some other things come up tomorrow (SCA Kingdom of the Outlands Coronation, with some good friends of mine stepping up as King and Queen so I’d like to be there), so I’m not sure I’ll get a full day in. But we’ll see what I can do. Barr Lake is right on the way to the event, so I can drop by and get my annual quota of Western Grebes in. Aren’t they pretty?

 

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more birding adventures!

April 11, 2018

I got tired of holding my point-and-shoot up to the spotting scope to try to get pictures, so I got an adapter to attach my phone to it, to try to take pictures that way. Went out to try the setup for the first time yesterday. I can see there’s going to be a learning curve — the phone and attachment throw the scope off balance and it’s hard to get it all steady. But I managed to get a few shots I’m willing to show off. Here’s one, a pair of American Avocets.

I love the detail that comes through with the scope and my phone. Those colors are so sharp. And I love avocets, they’re so slick and graceful. Now I need to work on getting the whole scope set up better and figure out photo processing to clean them all up. But, not bad for a raw image.

I’m not sure how people get pictures of songbirds with their spotting scopes. Water birds are there in the open, easy to see, and you generally have time to point, focus, etc. Near as I can figure, to get pictures of the little manic birds you basically have to point the scope somewhere and wait for something to fly into view?

 

Well, today I’m celebrating by coming down with a cold. And it’s snowing. Was in the 60’s yesterday. I should nap.

In the meantime, my latest movie review is in this month’s Lightspeed — I analyze Downsizing, a movie that pretty much nobody saw. I’m hoping to get to Ready Player One this weekend. I’m not particularly looking forward to it, oddly enough. My mistrust of nostalgia runs deep on this one.

Over on Wild Cards World, I write about That Time My Brother and I Did Wild Cards Cosplay but Couldn’t Leave the House. And can I just say that I’m so pleased to be getting back to cosplay, even just a little?

Ugh. Tea and naps.

 

Star Wars in Concert

March 23, 2018

Last night I went to see Star Wars with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and it was a lot of fun. First, I love live symphony music. Second, the Star Wars soundtrack is one of the greatest of all time. The both together? Excellent.

Watching the symphony play the soundtrack live with the movie, I notice things I wouldn’t otherwise. Like, the woodwinds play a big part. (Listening, I always thought it was strings and horns?) And also the silences. Places where there’s no soundtrack at all:  a big chunk of the Battle of Yavin has no music. Darth Vader and Obi-Wan’s duel? No music. The music starts again at the emotional beats:  the moment Obi-Wan turns his lightsaber away in the duel. The death of Red Leader in the battle.

The whole soundtrack is great, but when you hear the music in concert, played as concert music, you’re only going to hear the set pieces:  the opening titles, the Imperial March, etc. But seeing it with the film? You get to hear the whole thing.

A couple of years ago I went to see and hear when the symphony did Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the thing I noticed on that one is the Ark’s theme: it has its own theme that gets played when people talk about it, when Indy discovers the next clue on the quest, etc. And it builds. The first time we hear it it’s just one flute. Then flute and clarinet. Then all the woodwinds. Then the strings. So that by the time we get to the climactic Nazi reveal ceremony and all the terribleness, it’s the entire orchestra and the audience has been musically primed for the emotional build the whole film.

It’s great.

Next, I decided I’d really, really love to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” with a live symphony and chorus.

 

bird geekery

March 19, 2018

One of the things I’ve learned since really starting birding a few years ago is that ornithologists are constantly making up new species. And getting rid of other species. I mean, not actually. It’s just that the science is getting better all the time, DNA analysis is a thing now, and sometimes a regional subspecies turns out to be a whole new bird, and other times a couple of different species have hybridized with each other so much they’re actually just the same bird. So imagine my shock when I learned that they split off the Canada goose into a new subspecies. Canada goose, one of the common birds in the continental U.S. Some might even call it a pest. And now there’s another whole species, the Cackling goose, that basically looks exactly like the Canada goose except it’s short and stubby. Like this:

To make matters worse, it mostly hangs out with Canada geese. This means to ID and check off a Cackling goose, I needed to start paying attention to gigantic noisy boring flocks of Canada geese. Like, mindfully, and stuff.

Why are you doing this to me, ornithologists?  Why?!?  I can tell other birders are cranky about this too because over on eBird, instead of reporting Canada and Cackling geese separately, they just enter them under “Canada/Cackling Goose.”  Which is cheating. But I can understand. I want to try to be at least a little accurate.

Well, I decided this was the year I was going to do it. I was going to spot my Cackling goose. Because seriously, they’re two different birds once you see the differences. Cackling geese really do have short necks and short little bills compared to their former species-mates. And they’re small, and some of them have those prominent neck rings.  When you look at comparison photos online, they’re definitely different.

But comparing photos online versus spotting actual birds moving around in the wild? Yeah.  So basically I’ve spent the last two months taking pictures of one of the most common boring birds I see on my outings and bringing them home and comparing them to online ID sites to determine that no, in fact, those are still Canada geese.

I knew if I could just actually positively ID a Cackling goose in the wild, I’d figure it out.

Well, I did it on Saturday. I totally, 100% without a doubt got my Cackling geese. Like, once I spotted them they were obvious. And it isn’t just that they really are stubby little versions of the other. They acted different. Like, they all clumped together quietly drifting along on the water and looking vaguely embarrassed at how loud and obnoxious all the Canada geese were being.

Like they might actually be happy to be split out into their own species.

You go, little Cackling geese. I got yer backs.

 

I run this thought experiment every now and then:  what would it be like to watch TV with Thomas Jefferson? First off it’s a fun image. But it’s also a way to think on what the Founding Fathers might have thought about what the future looks like, especially the future of the U.S., when some of them weren’t sure their new country would even outlast them.

This week, because I’m very studiously avoiding politics, I’ve been watching the Olympics with Thomas Jefferson.

I think he’d be delighted with the entire concept of the Olympics — athletes around the world competing in the name of achievement and sportsmanship. (Yes, I know all the arguments about the Olympics being corrupt and a huge money sink. Let’s talk ideals here.)  For an Enlightenment-era thinker, a peaceful international sporting competition inspired by the ancient Greek games is pretty much the pinnacle of human accomplishment. He’d love it.

I think he’d be nonplussed at the sheer number of countries. Dozens and dozens of them. So many countries.

I think he’d also be nonplussed by the image of women competing in skintight outfits.  But I think he’d slowly come around when it’s explained to him how hard women had to fight to be able to compete at any sports at all. And I’d remind him that Abigail Adams would love it and be so proud of them.

Winter sports, however, would be kind of baffling in general. How many different ways can we find to go very fast on ice? Lots. Lots of ways.

And I think he’d be absolutely fascinated by electronic timekeeping. The ability to measure and compare speeds out to a hundredth of a second, instantaneously. He was a scientist on top of everything else he did, and in some ways that’s the most astonishing part of modern sports.

 

winter, ugh

February 12, 2018

I spent the weekend in Lamar, Colorado, looking at snow geese during the High Plains Snow Goose Festival. (They’re already migrating north and stop off in the area for a break this time of year. Thousands of snow geese, just hanging out.) Here’s how the weather breakdown went:

Thursday, the day I arrived:  60 F, sunny, beautiful.

Friday, birding day 1: 20 F, overcast, very cold.

Saturday, birding day 2: 20 F, snowing, OMFG cold.

Sunday, the day I left: 40 F, bright and sunny.

I am officially done with winter. I hit the wall. I can’t do this anymore. WTF.  And it wasn’t even the cold. It was the cold on exactly the two days I was trying to be outside, with gorgeous weather on either end. So angry making.

I logged 38 species. The most interesting were probably a merlin, a greater yellowlegs, a golden eagle, and hooded and common mergansers.

There were a lot more birds out there. I could tell they were out there. If I had been patient, if I could have stood out there and waited for them to come out I probably could have seen them. But it was very cold, so I didn’t.

But I have seen the snow geese, so the next time I go to that area, I’ll do it well into springtime, I think.