Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Color of August

You may call me silly, but I associate colors with each month of the year. I won't bore you with every month, but I will fill you in my summer colors. May is blue, June is orange, July is purple and August is yellow.

After my morning outside today, you'll understand why I associate August with yellow. I ran out to work to set up nets for my last mist netting session of the season, which is tomorrow. Knowing it was going to be a beautiful day, I brought my camera along and walked the prairie after setting up the nets.

The sweet coneflowers are still in bloom, although they getting to be just past their prime. But it still sure is nice to walk among the flowers.

The butterflies were out in force today, or I should say, the Skippers. There were many species of Skippers flitting about, but the Fiery Skippers caught my eye.

Most of the Skippers look very similar, making it difficult to identify them. Usually I wait until I get home to download the pictures with field guide in hand before trying to identify the Skippers. Even now, I'm doubting the accuracy of my identification

Skippers make up 1/3rd of the butterfly species in North America. They are tiny butterflies with broad heads, stocky bodies and small wings. They are also fast flyers. The larvae of this species feed primarily on bermuda grass.

Butterflies were not the only winged creatures flitting about. The American Goldfinches were feasting on the cone flowers and I had a young Indigo Bunting checking me out.

You may wonder about the word "Indigo" in this bird's name, but the females and young birds that hatched over the summer are brown. The males begin to gain that beautiful blue color the following spring, but still have brown feathers scattered across their body. It actually takes a few years for the males to completely lose the brown feathers.

Yellow flowers, yellow butterflies and yellow (and brown) birds. Do you understand now why I associate August with the color yellow?

Friday, August 26, 2011

A warm house and a missing door

The last 2 weeks have been uneventful, yet eventful, in that I have switched my duties from the prairie over to the local historic society (HS). My mother-in-law (Toadputty) is the president of this organization and I began volunteering last October. As time has progressed I have unwittingly, though somewhat willingly assigned myself additional responsibilities and became enmeshed in the town's gossip and politics. A typical day may be slow business-wise, but usually the quirks of the volunteers, calls and emails from other businesses with gossip , not to mention random calls from the public with strange questions make the day interesting.

Toadputty has been on vacation for the last 2 weeks and while Historia and Survivor have filled in for her, I went in several days during her absence. I haven't done anything useful, other than catalog old newspapers and update the volunteer hours on excel. I've spent most of my time doing non-volunteer things like reading academic periodicals and crunching the numbers from my summer work. But I went in to help in any way I could, whether it be to answer the phone or assist a walk-in during the times the other volunteers (who know more of the town's history than I do) are busy and to provide them assistance with any unforeseen circumstances. And let me tell you, there were a few odd incidents over the last 2 weeks.

My first request for help came last week, even before I was to report for duty in Toadputty's absence. I texted Toadputty Monday evening to inform her I was going in to HS on Tuesday.

I received a text that said "Make sure Historia doesn't paint the attic ceiling."


The HS organization resides in a 2 story house built before the Civil War. Of course the house now has modern conveniences with the exception of the attic, which did not have air conditioning or heat. However we rectified the situation over the summer, installing a snazzy AC/Heating unit.

I learned the story behind Toadputty's odd message on my arrival Tuesday. Apparently Historia got it in her head that the ceiling needed painting. NOW. Before I go any further, let me tell you that Historia is a frail wisp of a woman in her 90s. Her body doesn't quite match up to the strength of her mind. While she hasn't experienced any falls or mishaps to date (knock on wood), she has a tendency to bite off more than she can chew. Painting the attic ceiling would require moving heavy boxes and furniture, using a step ladder and painting over one's head. Given past experience with Historia, no one doubted that she would do all of this alone, with no help. Genie managed to stall Historia, stating the fact that Toadputty, who also wanted to paint the attic ceiling, had already bought paint and enlisted the help needed for painting. Historia only conceded after she could not locate any cans of paint in the house (she doesn't know Genie found a can of paint and opened the lid to dry out the contents).

The next adventure came the following day (Wednesday) and this one involved the whereabouts of a missing 100+ year old door. One of the primary objectives of HS is saving and restoring old houses and buildings. The building to which this door belonged has gone through a recent cycle of businesses and the newest inhabitant was planning to open a coffee shop. Unfortunately this gentleman was hellbent on removing every trace of antiquity from this building, all in the name of "improvement". The common practice for people who own or rent a historic landmark is to inform or ask permission from the local government or HS to make changes to their building. Most counties want to maintain some degree of the historic landmark's heritage and impose regulations on what the occupant can do to the exterior and sometimes even the interior of the building. Well, the man claimed ignorance to this fact and already made changes to the building, one of which was removing the door. When Toadputty found out what the man had done she demanded to know the location of the door and confusion ensued. Hell was raised and the City government claimed it would bring the door to HS. This all happened the week before Toadputty was to leave for vacation.

Well, that Wednesday (last week), Genie came in and asked if the door ever came in. After searching and speculation (Genie thought the door was delivered to the museum down the street. I was convinced the door was in a dumpster) I called Toadputty on her vacation and she in turn, called the City to demand the whereabouts of this door. Of course the man who had charged his underlings with the task of bringing the door to us had no idea the object in question was not delivered. He promised Toadputty he would get to the bottom of the mystery and make sure the door was delivered ASAP. But as of last Friday, we had no antique door.

This week seemed to focus on the quirks of my fellow volunteers and reminded me how much I disliked being around other people. I went in this Tuesday to a hot house. We had a heat advisory that day and it was already close to 90 degrees at 10am. Imagine my displeasure when I went into a house that felt as warm inside as it did outside. What.The.Hell. I made a beeline for the thermostat and found it set at 78 degrees. I turned the thermostat down to 74 and went to set up my laptop in the office, which still felt warm after 30 minutes of continuous cool air. I quickly glanced around the room and found a pile of boxes on top of the register. Knowing who was responsible for the thermostat and blocking boxes, but not wanting to accuse her, I found Survivor and tactfully asked her about the boxes.

"Oh yea," She said with a grin and a wave of her hand, "I get so cold and had that cold air blowing on me so I put the boxes on top of the vent."

Outwardly I laughed, but inwardly I wanted to throttle her and stick her upstairs in the attic, where Historia had that thermostat set at a balmy 77 degrees.

About an hour later, Historia was requesting my assistance. She wanted me to carry her computer monitor down to her car. Historia, who founded the HS, is in the process of retiring and has been gradually turning all of her responsibilities and information over to Toadputty. Thinking this was just another step in that process of letting go, I said nothing and obliged her request. However, she told me she was swapping her work computer with her home computer because she planned to work from home. I was about to ask her if she wanted me to carry the computer to the car as well when she interrupted me and told me she was going to ask one of the architects (we rent a space to a small business on the main floor) to help her because the other computer was too heavy. A few minutes later I found that architect coming up the stairs with a different computer monitor. I returned to my desk and it wasn't long before I lost the internet connection on my laptop. I wandered into Historia's office and found her fiddling around the power strip. She was complaining she couldn't get her monitor to work. I didn't want to get into the whole issue that she really wasn't changing computers, but just swapping monitors because I had a very limited understanding of computers myself and I knew she had even less of an understanding and explaining would be difficult at best. Instead I turned the power strip on (she had shut it off, thinking she had turned it on) and checked her wire connections. Yes indeed something was missing. I knew it was something obvious, but I couldn't place my finger on it until I saw her throw the power cord down in disgust. I asked her for the cord and I could tell from the look on her face as she handed it to me that she didn't think the cord was going to work. Imagine her surprise when it turned everything on. Again she went for the power strip and I quickly told her I switched it on because she had switched it off, and I knew that without a doubt because I lost my internet connection and I showed her how the Wi-Fi thingie (see? I told you I had a limited understanding of computer stuff) was plugged in to the power strip.

(*Note. I found out last night that the apple Macs have their computers built into the monitors. See? I REALLY don't know much about computers)

Today was uneventful but I was somewhat annoyed at Survivor, who was in a talkative mood, or rather, a history preaching mood. Survivor has a tendency to be condescending when she preaches local history. She talks to me like I have no inkling of what history is, despite the fact that I have a college education and do quite a bit of reading on the subject. Granted, my interest lays in the history of the American West and Environmental history (yes, that is a niche now) and I have a limited knowledge of our local history, but don't talk to me like I'm a 10 year old. I don't take it too personally though. I've noticed her taking the same tone with other people when she talks history. So after lunch, I retreated upstairs to the quiet, albeit warm, recesses of the attic.

The door finally showed up today too. I was so happy to see it because I have feeling if the door hadn't shown up today we would have been canvasing the neighborhood dumpsters next week. It is a pretty door and was worth the drama.

And Toadputty is back next week. Hallelujah she's coming back. That place doesn't run quite the same without her.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Clean clean clean

I had the house to myself last week and I took the opportunity to clean. In addition to the usual vacuuming, dishes, laundry and the like, I went through the clutter and nothing was safe. I started in the family room and went through a basket containing all the note cards, magazines, scientific journals, junk mail to look at later and travel brochures. All the junk mail and magazines went into the recycle bin without a second thought, but the scientific periodicals, note cards and travel brochures were a little more difficult.

Most of the travel brochures were Alaska-themed. The brochures from our 2010 trip ended up in the recycle bin, but I hung on to the rest and stuffed them in a manila envelope titled "Alaska trips to take", because you know, I do plan to return to the state of the midnight sun someday. I lingered on the remaining brochures, thumbing through them in a wistful air. Cruise around New Zealand? I wish. Scotland and Ireland? Awww, it pains me, but no. Iceland. How cool would that be? Toss. Toss. Toss. All in the recycle bin.

The scientific journals were all work-related and each one was akin to solving a mystery. Almost all the periodicals had a sticky tab attached to a page. I created 2 piles; one pile for the journals to be filed and the other pile for the issues to remain in the basket to be read.

Hey, here's the article on nest box traps. I already made a copy of that paper. To be filed.

Hmm, now why in the world did I want this one? Oh! That one is DC's vireo study. Sorry dude, no time for that now. To be filed.

Well this journal has TWO papers on wintering grassland birds. Keep in the basket.

Another method for assessing reproductive success. Gah. As much as I hate math, this one has to stay. Keep in the basket.

WHY did I keep this one? I flipped through the paper and found the literature cited portion heavily highlighted. Great, more crap to look up and read. Sigh. Keep in the basket.

Sorting through the periodicals took the longest and after emptying and reorganizing the basket, I called it a day but took a box filled with books and another box with CDs downstairs. However, one look downstairs told me where I would be spending most of my de-cluttering energy in the near future.

Another day was spent in the kitchen scrubbing the floor, throwing out expired goods and spices and deciding which appliances and gadgets to donate to Goodwill. I found an extra bread pan, the cake pan I couldn't find over Christmas holiday and some flat Teflon thingie to grill vegetables on.

Once the kitchen was clean and clutter free, I descended into the bowels of the basement. I spent 3 days down there, about an hour each day combing through boxes and walking down memory lane. When and how did I accumulate so much crap? Old dresses, shirts, shoes, stuffed animals, papers from college, photographs, greeting cards, postcards and more.

I also got a glimpse of Danno's childhood. D&D figurines, lots of computer discs, comic books, board games and this holiday outfit he wore as an infant

How cute is this?

I also found gadgets given as past Birthday and Christmas presents that were placed in the basement due to lack of kitchen space. Many of them forgotten until now. I'm trying to figure out where to put the Cocoa Latte set that my sis-in-law gave me for Christmas one year. Lattes! I can't believe I chucked that into the basement. What was I thinking??

A total of 4 boxes were donated to Goodwill and the basement doesn't look much different. But I suppose years of accumulation doesn't diminish in a matter of hours. It will take more time and trips down memory lane to clean.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Yellow Flowers and Yellow Birds

As you recall, I was feeling blue and complaining about the flowers starting to die off in my last entry. Well, this morning the prairie shouted a late summer reminder to me.

Good grief how did I forget about the Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)?

This beauty is in the Asteraceae family and the same genus as the Black-eyed Susan, Brown-eyed Susan as well as the Rough Coneflower, and Orange Coneflower. The Sweet Coneflowers bloom July - October. But I think their bloom time was delayed a bit due to our dry summer. However the day of rain last week was all it took to coax the flowers to open up. These flowers are also very fragrant and they permeated the air with their sweet smell.

And while the Common Yellowthroats and most of the Indigo Buntings are gone, the sweet chatter of the American Goldfinches was yet another reminder that not every bird leaves once the summer is nearly over.

The American Goldfinches breed later in the summer than the other birds. They time their nesting cycle to the blooming of milkweed, thistle, coneflowers and a few other plants. They use these plants for nesting material and feed the seed to their young. I've seen many a goldfinch on my Purple Coneflower and Sweet Coneflower eating the seeds, not to mention witnessing the same spectacle on the prairie.

Today reminded me that the transition from late summer to early fall is filled with its own beauty and I just need to keep my senses open to the changing seasons.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

End of Summer Blues

I've been in a slump since the conference. Well, the slump really began a week or two before the conference, but the blahs have been more pronounced this week. This is the first week I haven't done a bird census or checked nest boxes. Yes, I'm still mist netting and will do so until the end of August. But essentially, my work season is over, and for me, that means the end of summer.

I love spring and summer. I enjoy watching the progression of trees leafing out and flowers budding, the influx of spring migrants and the accompanying cacophony of bird song. The dragonflies, butterflies, cicadas, warm weather, and long hours of daylight. While the cicadas are beginning to hit their peak, the songbirds are leaving, most of the flowers have bloomed and are beginning to die off and the days are slowly losing their long hours of light. Blech.

I've been uninspired and a lazy lump. I need to start number crunching and writing my report because I'm going to present my findings at a conference in December, but I just can't get motivated. I've wanted to blog the last few days, but the topics and words have evaded me.

Not much to say. Just in a slump.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lessons learned from my conference

Yesterday I returned home from the "Midwest Bird Monitoring" conference that was 2-1/2 days long. This conference was primarily run by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and was a bit different from conferences I've attended in the past. This conference didn't center around research projects and new techniques, but rather the administrative end of bird conservation. I learned some new lessons on this trip and here are the conference and non-conference things I learned.

1) Apparently having "resort" in the hotel name gives them license to overcharge for an average-sized room with less-than-adequate air conditioning, a smaller than expected dining room that over charges on average food from a limited menu. Which leads to:

2) Resort in the hotel names just means the place sits on a beach.

3) Government agencies speak almost exclusively in acronyms. I don't think I've ever heard so many acronyms spoken in a single sentence. For example, I overheard the following statement in a conversation:

"We have a JV (joint venture) with PIF (Partners in Flight) and an NGO (non-government organization)."

The following sentence was in one of my handouts:

"Coordinate with USDA (US Dept of Agriculture) NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service) and FSA to determine how to create a better grassland core and matrix for bird conservation."

I still don't know what FSA means.

4) Children who are noisy after 9pm annoy me much much more than children who are noisy before 9pm.

5) Many of the biologists at the conference had the responsibility of determining how to manage their land based on bird population models. The statistics that predict a future population number of a given bird species looked frightening. I didn't realize that enormous responsibility hinged on so much math and computer science. I'm glad I'm just a field grunt who gets to hold birds and kiss them on the head. Which in turn leads to:

6) I may be just a field grunt, but the numbers from my bird census and mist netting is a meaningful contribution to the Midwest melting pot of bird conservation and I'm grateful there are computer gurus who know how to manipulate all that data.

7) Bird Whisperer knows how to liven up a long car ride and make a trip fun. Chick-in-charge knows how to read people and is a very patient person.

8) My pillow at home is what is causing my persistent neck pain. My neck did not hurt once during the entire trip and after one night at home in my own bed, I woke up with neck pain...again.

The conference was overwhelming in the sense that a large number of techniques on measuring bird numbers and ideal habitat were casually tossed about which in turn meant that a lot of mathematical formulas were thrown at me. I understood just enough to realize that I'm falling short on my little prairie because there is so much more I can do, so much more I can measure and I don't have many resources to show me these lessons.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An assault to the senses

Back in June, Bird Whisperer, Chick-in-Charge and I decided to go to a Midwest Bird Conference up near Chicago. The conference was to take place in a resort within a state park the first week in August. We drove up yesterday and arrived early evening. As we were driving through town we noticed several downed trees and signs warning the public beach was closed. We pulled up to the resort parking lot to find not only signs stating the trails and part of the beach were closed, but there was roofing and other construction materials on the side of the building.

An odd smell struck my nose when we entered the lobby. I can't even describe the odor. It wasn't exactly a musty smell, nor did it have that burning rubber smell that accompanies a roof repair. But part of the aroma concoction smelled stale. When we checked in, we learned there was a pretty serious storm within the last 5 days with tornado-like winds. These winds tore the shingles off the resort roof and destroyed part of the roof on the building that houses the swimming pool. Not only did this storm bring down trees and other vegetation, thus closing the trails, but it flooded the resort basement as well.

We all were placed on the same floor with our rooms fairly close together. My room was warm, very warm. I discovered the AC/Heating unit was on the fan setting so I switched it to "high-cold". I was concerned this was going to be a problem so I went over to Bird Whisperer's room to compare notes on the room temperature. Her room was also stuffy so I figured it would just take time for my room to cool down. After dinner and a walk on the resort beach (the part that wasn't closed of course) I returned to a persistently warm room. After calling Bird Watcher and learning her room had sufficiently cooled off, I went downstairs to request a new room. I was placed on a different floor, but the AC was newer and the room cooled off in no time.

The trouble began not long after I moved into my new room. For about a half hour a continuous stream of people checked into their rooms on my floor. There was a great deal of talking, door slamming and foot stomping during that time. I was mildly annoyed, but figured the noise would eventually die down. No it did not.

For the next hour-and-a-half there were kids noisily running up and down the hall, giggling teens talking and knocking on various doors to grab their friends and more door slams. And of course the room next to mine was filled with noisy kids. I fumed for those 90 minutes. Where were the parents of these kids? Surely they could hear the ruckus these children were creating. Why wasn't anyone coming out to grab these little heathens by the collar to tell them to shut it? I don't have children, so I honestly don't know what noise level is acceptable in a home, but was this how these kids behaved at home?? And it was after 10pm. Did they really need to be running up and down the hall at this hour?? Why were they even running up and down the hall? Around 10:30 there was a loud crash in the next room, causing my wall to vibrate. What were they doing? Slamming each other against the wall?

I stormed downstairs. Normal kid behavior or not, I had it with the noise and shenanigans. I all but yelled at the guy behind the desk about my noisy neighbors and the general chaos that was on my floor. He calmly took in my disheveled appearance that goes with bedtime and agreed to at least speak with my neighbors. Of course there was only 1 kid in the hall (there had been 3 when I went downstairs) when the desk man came upstairs, but he did talk to my next door neighbors and got them to pipe down.

I was very irritable this morning at breakfast.

"How'd you sleep?" Chick-in-charge asked me.

"Terrible." I snarled before filling her in on the events from the previous night.

"Well, the swimming pool is closed because of the roof damage. That really limits what the kids can do with their energy." Chick replied diplomatically.

"When I was a kid and we went on vacation, my mother never allowed us to tear up and down the hallway at any time unattended." I grumbled.

Good grief, at what point in time did I begin my sentences with "when I was a kid"? Was I that old already to be making those statements?

"Some of those people probably don't go on vacation very often so they're excited and don't think about others and the noise they may be creating." Bird Whisperer said.

I snorted and told Bird Whisperer she was kinder and had more patience than I did in those matters.

I went up to the front desk and asked to be moved to a different room yet again. In all my years of travel, I don't think I have ever switched rooms and here I had changed rooms twice in less than 24 hours. I was placed back on the same floor with Chick-in-Charge and Bird Whisperer, but this time I was at the end of the hall. The room smells like musty mothballs and the AC doesn't work as well as it should, but the room is comfortable. I can overlook these deficiencies if it means my hallway is quiet and run-free.

I hope that it's quiet tonight.