Monday, July 27, 2009

The Young Ones Among Us

There are two times of the year that I favor for birdwatching, one being spring, the other, summer. Songbirds from the tropics fly in a flurry of color and song to pause in our trees for respite before traveling to their breeding grounds, giving us birdwatchers a welcome break from the drabs of winter. Mid to late summer is my other favorite time of the year because of the young birds, who have recently left the nest. It is here you see the efforts of the adult songbirds come to fruition; the defending of territory, effort in attracting a mate, nest building, incubation, feeding the young and defending the nest when necessary. The adults spend all this time and energy with the goal of insuring the future of their own kind and the young birds (aka juveniles) are now out and about, learning the ropes of survival.

Young birds are entertaining to watch. I have often found on the restored prairie and even in my backyard, a group of young birds hopping or flying after a harried parent, begging for food in a series of rapid wing flutters and high pitched chips. Everything in this world is new to these birds and I have found some of these youngsters are just as curious of you as you are of them. With patience and care, it is possible to come within a few feet of these young birds for several moments, allowing you the opportunity to study or photograph them.

The juvenile American Robins are my absolute favorites.

They are clumsy but unabashed in their attempts to explore their new abilities and the world around them. I have seen young robins bounce and flop among the top limbs of trees. I have seen a robin or two awkwardly hover in mid-air before doubling back to return to their original place in a tree. I've watched juvenile robins eye the ground before making an exaggerated pounce to obtain a worm, or a blade of grass. I've listened to these birds try their new voices that sound like squawks rather than the pleasant warble of the adults. Just last week I had 4 young Robins, probably all siblings, nearly collide into me because they were not paying attention to what was in front of them.

I think I like these young birds because in an odd way, I can relate to them. Every time I see a juvenile robin, I reflect back on some of the more awkward learning stages of my life. These young birds remind me that it's ok to not do a task perfectly the first, or even fifth time. It's the process that counts. And it's nice to see that reminder in action, rather than hear it from a friend or colleague.

Keep on learning my little Robin friends. You'll get the hang of life and before you know it, you'll be teaching your tricks to the next generation of your species.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I'd pass out but my legs hurt so bad I'm not sure I'd be able to get up! Week one of the new exercise class

Monday I started a resistance/cardio exercise class that I heard about through a classmate I reconnected with on Facebook. She mentioned it from time to time and recently my curiosity got the better of me. With nightmarish flashbacks of High School PE, I sent her a message, asking what the exercise class entailed. She reassured me that the class was designed to allow each person to do the exercises at their own pace.

The last time I took an exercise class was probably 5 years ago, maybe longer. Any exercise I've done in the recent past has been in the form of walking or hiking. With a recent lecture from the doctor still ringing in my ears, I decided that it was now or never with getting in shape. So Monday I showed up at the city park where the class was taking place.

To my relief the class was small and predominantly women. (There were 2 men) The instructor greeted me warmly and repeatedly told me to take the class at my own pace and to listen to my body. There were bench squats, body lunge walking, jogging and pushups. There was arm lifting and curling with weights, modified sit ups (plain ole' situps are too easy) and leg lifts. It was hard work but I did ok keeping up. I was a little sore when I finished, but it was manageable.

I got the first inkling of pain in the middle of the night. I woke up when I shifted in bed and every time thereafter and when morning finally broke, my thighs hurt so bad I had to roll out of bed. Roll out of bed.

All of Tuesday I hobbled around at a snail's pace. Sitting and standing were difficult to say the least. I had no idea how much you depend on your thigh muscles to sit and stand! When getting ready to sit, I would lean on objects and then arrange my body in such a position that relieved my thigh muscles of most of the work. I usually landed with a hard thud in a chair, or...ahem...on the toilet. (I will spare you the details of how much work it was to use the bathroom) And stairs...oh geez. Stairs were not in the cards on Tuesday. I could not walk down the basement stairs.

The class was a discouraging experience for me Wednesday evening. The instructor started out with cardio exercises and right off the bat I got tired and winded. We weren't into the class 15 minutes when I felt light-headed and maybe, if I pushed myself too hard, I would faint. I immediately stopped exercising. If I fell over, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get up because my legs were still so sore! I did what I could but took it easy. I worked out harder Monday night than I did Wednesday night. Again the instructor was supportive, telling me a lot of beginners take a period of adjusting to the class and also to exercising in the heat. But I was discouraged, very discouraged.

This morning I mistnetted at the Bird Sanctuary and talked with Bird Whisperer. She's an exercise fiend. Despite the teasing she gave me, she told me her husband had the same experience of sore leg muscles and the inability to walk up and down stairs (thank goodness!) when he started exercising with her. She offered advice that ranged from leg stretches to the suggestion of eating protein after a workout in the thoughts that it builds muscle and perhaps cuts down on the soreness.

I felt a bit better after our talk, but I'm still feeling, well, discouraged. I'm not giving up on the class, but I've got a lot of work ahead of me to get back into good shape.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Travelin' boots

I bought a new pair of boots a few weeks ago. This is my third pair since 2000. With each pair of boots I develop an attachment. I catalog the places I've traveled on those boots, and each of those places in turn, have their own special memories.

I bought my first pair of boots in the summer of 2000, before I went out to my first field job in Oklahoma and New Mexico. I was hired to work for the Sutton Avian Research Center for about 6 weeks. The field biologists were monitoring several populations of Lesser Prairie Chickens in Laverne Oklahoma and Causey, New Mexico with radio telemetry units. The batteries attached to the Chickens were only good for about one year and it was our job to gather the birds up and replace those units. The biologists timed the chicken wranglin' with their summer molt, so the birds couldn't fly very far when spooked. And for reasons that I cannot recall, we captured the birds at night. We worked from 10pm - 6am.

Those 6 weeks were an eye opener for me. I was immersed into a completely different world that was physically demanding and required me to work in close quarters with complete strangers. For 4 of those weeks, we snuck around in complete darkness, with only a few head lights and a series of electronic blips on the telementry unit to guide us around the uneven terrain of farmland and prairie. When it was determined we were close to the birds, we would switch all lights off and with nets in hand, allow the biologist with telementry device to lead us in closer. The biologist would still have his headlamp on and he would point us in the direction of the birds we were following. The birds would burst into flight with loud whistles from their wings and we would chase and scoop the birds into our nets.

Night time on the prairie was amazing. It was walking under a vast sky filled with countless twinkling stars, maybe witnessing a dozen falling stars or watching lightning blink between clouds in the distance, all while listening to the distant yips of coyotes. In New Mexico the prairie had the added bonus of Barn Owls ghosting across the midnight blue sky.

Those first pair of boots also went up to Alaska for my third field job in 2002. That was an amazing, yet incredibly physically demanding trip. I spent the month of June in Denali National Park, assisting the field biologist with a bird census of the park. For 2 out of the 4 weeks I was there, I camped in an ecological zone where the trees were gnarled and dwarfed by the intense winds and short growing season. The mountains filled up the sky and there was no night.
Like a mountain goat, I scrambled up scree and crossed icy cold glacial streams that ran waist high. I watched Caribou graze on fireweed, observed a female bear climb up a hillside with her cubs, had a brush with a fox and saw a wolf carefully pick its way across several tumbled rocks in the pouring rain. Mt. McKinley loomed over the park like a silent guardian, always present, always in view. The mountain was usually shrouded in clouds but I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the peaks when the clouds cleared for a moment one morning.

Those boots had also been to the North Woods of Wisconsin, the Swamps of Louisiana, and walked the great city of Seattle. I loved those boots. I felt almost as if they were an extension of my body. But I was hard on those boots and the soles began to separate from the shoes. I used Gorilla Glue to adhere the soles back on, but that only works for so long.

In 2006 I bought my second pair of boots. I was saddened in replacing my first pair of boots, but these new shoes were marvelous. They were lightweight and water resistant. They were comfortable and I loved them. However, I bought the boots around the same time we rescued a certain kitten by the name of Olivia. Her momma gave birth to her and her 2 other littermates in our backyard. I was planning to retrieve Olivia and her littermates around 6 weeks of age and tame them but urban nature rushed my hand a bit. When they were 4 weeks of age, Dan heard a ruckus around midnight and went outside to investigate. The adult male cat that was hanging around had killed one of the kittens and was working on a second one. That following morning I found Olivia and her brother and immediately set to taming them.

To make a long story short, I found a home for the male kitten, but was having trouble placing Olivia. Dan felt sorry for her (well, probably more for me) and conceded we could keep her as long as she was declawed. Initially I was bothered by the declawing bit, but Olivia seemed to go out of her way to convince me she needed the procedure. She climbed up doorframes, screen windows and the speakers. And my poor BRAND NEW boots. Olivia loved my boots. She played with the shoestrings and scratched her razor sharp claws across the sides and within a month, my new shoes looked like this.

I knew I needed to replace the shoes, but I was stubborn. I had just bought these awesome boots and wanted them to follow in the stead of their predecessor. So with boots on foot, I returned to Seattle, went to the beaches of Alabama, traveled up to Canada and hiked through Big Bend National Park before I decided to retire them.

What new adventures will be in store for me and the new pair of boots? Where will we travel? What will we see? I shouldn't get ahead of myself. First I need to make sure the boots stay safe from the little beast known as Olivia and it looks like I'm going to have my work cut out for me.