Friday, December 29, 2006

Visions of Pareidolia

Okay so I know it is just pareidolia but it sure looks like the nebula in this photo is giving me the finger.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Warner's Woods Without Tom?

My first day at Warner Nature Center I had a note on my desk from the director Tom Anderson. It read something to the effect of "Off to fulfill my pleistocene hunting heritage." It was a nod to author Paul Shepherd.

In Ecology and Man, Shepherd said, "If nature is not a prison and earth a shoddy way-station, we must find the faith and force to affirm its metabolism as our own---or rather, our own as part of it. To do so means nothing less than a shift in our whole frame of reference and our attitude toward life itself, a wider perception of the landscape as a creative, harmonious being where relationships of things are as real as the things. Without losing our sense of a great human destiny and without intellectual surrender, we must affirm that the world is a being, a part of our own body."

Now, as Tom resigns his position at the reigns so he can pursue other adventures , it is hard to imagine Warner without him because Warner is a part of his being and his being is part of Warner. He has eaten apples of the trees, eaten fish from the lakes and deer from the woods. These things all became part of Tom but it is the experience of place at Warner that has shaped him over these past 29 years into the person he is. Every tree, every boulder, fen, marsh and every hand full of glacial till has subtly shaped his life and as such, Tom is as much a part of this land as this land is a part of him.

His relationship to the land and to us is just as real and as valued as the physical materials that make up the whole.

It is hard to imagine Warner without Tom because in many ways they are in unison. They always were, are now and will forever be one and the same. It will be hard to imagine but when the day comes that Tom is not here every day it will, in effect, be a little like my first day. Tom may not be here physically but his influence and presence will be here even when he is out in other wild places.

You cannot truly remove Tom from Warner because you cannot remove a person from themselves.


Friday, December 08, 2006

I am so freakin' happy

Valleyfair get's a new woodie this summer!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Belated Halloween

Here's a shot of our halloween costumes.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Water on mars?

NASA may be poised to make a major announcement about water on mars. The details on this page are limited but it sounds like they have found a seep?


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A caving we will go

I went into Spring Valley Caverns today with my co-worker Paul. It took us about two hours to get down to southern Minnesota and get into the cave. We were down there for about an hour and a half as we scouted the route in preparation for bringing a group of kids in a few weeks. I should have brought a camera!

It reminded me of one of the coolest things I did when I was young. We went to Woodlake Nature Center and went on a Storm Drain tour walking tour. We tromped around in the storm drains and learned how the water from the city empties into the nature center. What to bet hte city lawyers have ended that program?


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Friday, November 10, 2006

Anyone have $200,000 for me?

If anyone has an extra $200,000 sitting around and they want to buy me a ticket on SpaceShipTwo I'd be happy to cook them a really nice dinner.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sun Dogs

I saw a sun dog this morning on my way to work. It was the second of the season. I'd like to start carrying my digital camera with me so I can capture some atmospheric lens effects.

I am a dork.


Friday, October 20, 2006


I sent my work MacBook in for repairs on Tueday and Today, Friday it is already back from Apple. That was a really fast turn around. They replaced the heat sink as the computer had RSS-Random Shutdown Syndrome. I wasn't impressed with DHL who has farmed out their call center to another country. The first person I spoke to barely spoke English. They asked how late a person could pick the package up and I said 4:00. That was Friday. When no one came I called on Monday and got a different person who barely spoke english. She kept saying " I show attempted."

When I asked her when it was attempted said, "8:45 P.M." When asked why they would attempt to pick up a package at 8:45 pm when I told them we were a business that closes by 4:00 she didn't have any answer apart from, "We show attempted."

Not impressed.

When I tried to schedule another pick-up I was told it was too late for Monday and they would send someone on Tuesday.

My computer had thus been sitting in a box waiting to be picked up by DHL for five days before someone actually came to pick it up.

Yeah, Apple. Boo DHL.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Happy Friday the 13th

Earlier this week a child at work wrote a poem about a tree. Unfortunately I don't have his name because he's a brilliant poet. Here goes.

Tree Huger

Today I huged a tree
Witch was kwit a glee

It was 150 years old
It had tree mold

Love that tree


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Down by the Fireside

You know it is getting cold when the first fire of the year springs to life in the Warner Nature Center fireplace. More light snow today.


I'm gonna be a Star

This is a fantasic Onion article.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Let It Snow

There is something about snow that reminds me to blog. (Yes, that's a sprinkling of snow on my deck.) After all, the blog is called Phenomenological Visions and right now the predominant phenomenological vision out my window is one of swirling flakes.

Snow has come early to the north land.

Very little of it is sticking to the ground but there it is none the less; frozen crystals of water formed on microscopic dust.

They say it wil be a mild winter. We shall see. I guess I need to go home and finish lacing my snowshoes.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Technological Distance

Last week my sister-in-law phoned with disturbing news. Coming home after a date, she heard screams in the street. There had just been an accident. A woman who lived in her building was standing behind her parked car accessing the trunk when another car swerved off the road and struck both her and her car with tremendous force. The force was sufficient to sever the woman’s leg.

When my sister-in-law arrived on the scene, the woman’s friend had tightened a belt around her thigh as a tourniquet and held onto her femoral artery with his bare hands so she wouldn’t bleed out. They could not find the leg. My sister-in-law held the woman’s hand and tried to keep her calm while they waited ten agonizing minutes for the ambulance to arrive.

The driver of the car parked half a block down the street and didn’t leave her vehicle until the police escorted her into the back of their car. She was likely in shock over what she had done though she probably didn’t even realize how bad it really was.

This was just three blocks from my home. I have parked in that same spot dozens of times. Days later, I drove by and could see the grizzly fluorescent spray paint outline of the scene on the street. Every vehicle had been outline by the police so they could examine the scene; re-create that night; try to put the pieces back together.

I don’t know if alcohol was involved, or if the woman was tired or distracted. These are the questions that will be asked but they are irrelevant. The automobile allowed this to happen. No matter how fast a drunk, tired or distracted woman runs down a sidewalk in her tennis shoes she will never sever a person’s leg by running into them. The automobile allowed this to happen.

Leaving the nature center where I work just a few days later, I drove past two dead raccoons, two dead opossums and a dead squirrel. I saw them all within one hundred feet. They too were not killed by joggers. The car made this possible.

In the five years I’ve made my commute to my current job I’ve seen at least three squirrels hit by a cars while I watched. The country roads are deadly for wildlife.

I don’t know anyone who would purposefully go out of their way to kill a raccoon or squirrel or opossum. The animals I see every day are not purposefully killed. They are the by-product of our lifestyle. None of the people who hit them with their cars would kill the same animal if they had to do it with their hands. The woman who crashed her car could never imagine she would some day sever the leg of another human.

In the case of the animals, cars, and technology in general, can serve to distance us from the consequences of our actions. People see a dead squirrel on the road and they say, “That animal was hit by a car,” and not, “That animal was killed by a person.” A symptom of our denial.

In the case of the woman, technology has allowed someone to do something horrible they never thought possible. These are two sides of the same coin really.

We need to slow down, consider our every footfall, and take part in the world around us as one of many beings, not as just a technological passenger. Our technology allows to do the things we swear we would never do. We often drive on blindly, unaware of the carnage we leave in our wakes. Our technology has allowed us to move faster than the natural pace of the world both physically and metaphorically.

We need to slow down.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Norway List

I saw many birds in Norway but I was only able to positively identify 12.

I saw:

Magpie (european) [Skjœre]
Great Crested Grebe [Toppdykker]
Greylag Goose [Grågås]
Grey heron [Gråhegre]
Carrion Crow [Kråke]
Mute Swan [Knoppsvan]
Robin (european) [rødstrupe]
Ped Wagtail [Linerle]
Great tit [Kjøttmeis]
Tufted Duck [Toppand]
Great Spotted Wodpecker [Flaggspett]
Black Headed Gull [Hettemåte]

I also believe I saw a Herring Gull, and I know I saw some kind of Cormorant. There are two possibilities but I cannot say for certain which it was. I probably also saw a Blue Tit but it was mixed in with some Great Tits so I can't be sure of the ID. I was distracted by all the great tits. How's that for exciting birding?


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Jeg er “Flatlander”

I love to get outside and hike. My relatives in Norway knew this so when my wife and I visited last month they decided to take us on a hike. We had heard of a fantastic vantage point above the Lysefjord called the Prekestolen. “Ah yes,” they said, “the prekestolen is just a short hike. We’d love to take you.” Their whole family, including two ten-year-old twins and a twelve year old packed into two cars and headed out into the wilds of Norway.

My wife, who is not Norwegian by heritage, soon discovered a secret not much known to the non-Nordic peoples. We are descended from mountain goats.

I’d like to think that I am in reasonable shape but this hike was extraordinary. Living in the flatlands of Minnesota has diminished my mountain goat heritage. At some point there was mention of the hike being four kilometers long but not being so familiar with the metric system I let it slide. After all, I’ve run a 5K race before. It wasn’t so bad, and I was running! I could handle a hike up a hill. As it turns out, it was more like six kilometers and this wasn’t a hill. Running was out of the question.

If a Norwegian ever offers to take you on a short hike, beware. “Short” is a subjective term relative to the terrain in which you live as well as how far you are from your original mountain goat ancestors (assuming you have some).

I have a goatee; I am not a goat.

Six kilometers is three and a quarter miles. While most hiking I do at home is on nice dirt paths gently meandering through the forest, the trail to the Prekestolen was largely a skree field of boulders. Scree incidentally comes from the old Norse word Skritha meaning landslide. A lovely thing to ponder as I ascended the loose rock.

The elevation gain from parking lot to Prekestolen was 1,400 feet. The trail winds up and down what a flatlander like myself would call mountain ridges but locals would probably just call hills. Due to the up and down nature of the trail, the elevation gain felt like even more than the 1,400 feet obtained by math.

As I left the trees behind and walked across smooth alpine domes of rock I heard a tinkling in the air. It was the ringing of bells hanging from the necks of sheep. They watched our weary approach to the pulpit rock known as prekestolen. Drawing near I got my first dizzying view of the drop off and my heart raced with joy. This is living.

The prekestolen is a sheer face of rock shooting straight up from the water of the fjord. When you stand at the edge you are looking down two thousand feet to the water below. There used to be more of these outcroppings but over thousands of years the others have all sheared off and plunged into the cold depths of the 1300 foot deep fjord. The Prekestolen itself is slowly separating from the surrounding rock and the large crack is measured each year to chart the progress. We all jumped a few times but it didn’t budge.

I have always asserted that I have no problem with heights but peering over that edge, seeking the almost unfathomable distance between sky and self and rock and water, the very mortal part of my being screamed for retreat and forced me backwards. According to my estimate, it would only take a human eleven seconds to make the two thousand foot drop to the water below but I wasn’t about to check my math through first hand experimentation.

I reasserted my bravery and sat on the very edge of the precipice. I dangled my legs over the edge, thumbed my nose at fate, paused for the obligatory photo and retreated to a safer distance. After taking the photo, my cousin suggested we not show it to his mother. “Just thinking about it might give her a heart attack.”

The trip to the Prekestolen made me appreciate elevation in the landscape. My wife and I had to keep on apologizing for not being able to keep up with even the short legged kids who joined our trek. We needed to remind them and remind ourselves that we are essentially flatlanders. Successive glaciers and millions of years have worn the volcanic flows and limestone beds of Minnesota into a smooth rolling hilly landscape.

Bluff tops and the ancient mountains of the north shore of Lake superior are the few opportunities we have here to elevate ourselves. Elevation gives you perspective on the world, it allows you to see further and it allows you to dream more.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I Hate Wikipedia

see title.
enough said.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More local avifauna

Just a quick note here. I have reached 105 birds. I saw a house wren over at the farm across the street from work when I was with kids in the Fossils to Feathers class. I then also spotted a ring billed gull at canal park in Duluth when I was up taking a weekend backpacking trip with Chelsey. Pathetic that that was to only bird I saw. I purposefully stopped there to see the gulls as I was frustrated I missed every other bird on the trip. We camped real close to the river there weren't any birds. Chelsey thought it was because the loud sound of the rapids would drown out their tiny voices and so they keep further away. That's a good thought. I did hear a flock of jays come through the tops of the trees but they were too fast and the lighting too poor to make a good ID.

Two fun birds came today. Everyone has been seeing blue grey gnatcatchers down by the driveway loop so I headed out at lunch. I heard them and finaly saw a bird moving through the trees. It spiraled down (just like Paul described a gnatcatcher doing) and caught an insect. It was now at eye level so I looked though the binoculars and to my surprise, it was a chestnut-sided warbler! It was a female in first winter plumage. How's that for a sign that summer is ending!

At the end of the day I went out with Paul and we saw a bunch of the blue-grey gnatcathcers.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Israel creates major oil spill/blocks clean-up

Here's a horrible story the mainstream media has seen fit to pretty much ignore. the short version is that when Israel bombed Lebanon they caused a huge oil spill and their blockade is preventing the clean-up of this environmental catastrophy. Ain't war grand?

National Geographic also ran a story about it.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Pushing past Hundo

I'm now past 100 birds thanks to a trip to Washinton state. I thought my first new bird out there was a Western Gull but I later changed my mind as they are nearly impossible to ID 100%. My brother and I went up to Mt. Rainier and predictably I finally saw a Steller's Jay. I had seen one there a couple of years ago. I saw it this time at a picnic table at the grove of the patriarchs. I also spotted a chickadee and quickly ignored it once I saw it was a chickadee. Stupid. It caught my attention because it sounded strange. It was probably a mountain chickadee and I was too quick to dismiss it and moved on. Oh well, lesson learned.

At Snow Lake, also at Rainier I saw an American Dipper in a rocky mountain waterfall/stream. Classic habitat for this bird. I feel luccky to have seen it!

Later on near The Bench, a rock formation on the trail to Snow Lake, I spotted a hermit thrush though I have already seen one this year.

My next bird was a Clark's Nutcracker in the parking lot of Paradise. It looked raly raggy but the bill is distinct. I think I also saw a grey jay but I cannot confirm that. I also cannot confirm a possible sighting of a blue grouse. It ran across my path but it would have been poor form to run through an alpine meadow to confirm the sighting. Darn!

Crossing to the Olympic Penninsula helped the bird count along as well. I thought I saw a group of rhinoceros auklets as I thought I could maybe make out those two white lines on the face. They were too far away to say for certain.

I soon had more birds to make up for that sighting. I saw a pigeon guillemot and a caspian tern at Dungeness Spit. I also saw a loon there and was very frustrated that I could not tell if it was a common or pacific loon. The head looked black, not grey so I'd think common but there were no visible white neck markings. Very weird.

Moving on to First Beach in La Push I spotted a double crested cormorant and a hearty number of brown pelicans.

I also added a belted kingfisher to my list and was surprised that I didn't have one on there already. I thought I had seen one. Oh well. I also incidentally saw one a few days after returning to Minnesota as I sped past Lake Cornelia in Edina.

The coolest place on the trip for birds would have to be Cape Flattery. It was the most northwest point in the contiguous united states. I spotted a pelagic cormorant (you could see the white patches on the flanks) as well as my first ever puffin. I saw the tufted puffin and it was in breeding plumage which was a real treat.

Upon returning home I quickly spotted bird number 101. I took a group of kids on a hike and there sitting on a tree branch singing away was an Eastern Wood Peewee. Execellent.

I'm heading up north this weekend so hopefully my list will grow even more!

I'll post more about the actual trip to WA when I get the photos scanned in.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Solar Photography

I took this photo of sunspots today with the kids I'm teaching in the Astronomy Summer camp at Warner Nature Center. You can see the umbra and penumbra of the larger spot on the right and the smaller spots would probably be called pores. You can see some lighter faculae to the left as well. This was my first attempt at solar photography.

I used a meade 8 inch SCT and a 40mm Tele-Vue plossol lens. The camera was a 3.2 megapixel Olympus C-740 and I used afocal projection. I held the camera with my hands as I don't have a special mount to hold it in place.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Sad Mac

There comes a time in life when it is no longer fiscally wise to dump money into a computer. I was feeling all happy about the shiny new bigger and better hard drive in my ibook. I say WAS happy because now it was a huge waste of money. (Did I mention the new battery as well?)

My ibook is dead. It has the infamous and nasty Logic Board Failure. I called apple and they told me that while they finally admit there is a problem (after years of denial) they will only service computers that are less than three years old. How old is my computer? Three years and four months.

Of course it is.

Apple made a bad product and they should fix the bad product no matter how old it is. Gimme a break. If a car company realizes their engines are catching on fire due to a manufacting defect and then they say,"Well, we realize this is a problem but unless it catches on fire within three years of manufacture we're not going to fix it. Maybe you should just buy a new car, I mean come on, it's three years old!"

Now the good news is that it really isn't my computer. It is my work computer and so if we have to buy a new one it doesn't really come out of my pocket. Still, I work for a non-profit that has to work hard to save money. It irks me that corporations can make products that are so unstable and we are supposed to drool over them and fork over our cash to buy the newest model. It is almost enough to make me want to buy a PC. Almost. Of course, that will never happen as I think even less of them. I'd rather use a typewriter.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Curse May Be Lifting

It had been a while since I had seen a new bird but I recently added three birds in three days. No, none of them were the Indigo Bunting.

I set out for a canoe trip on the St. Croix river and what at first looked like a pair of eagles flying together turned out to be a pair of Sandhill Cranes. I'd heard them many times this year but this wa my first sighting.

At the first campground I heard a song that I knew I should know. It was Sweet Sweet oh so Sweet. Or something aproximating that. I spotted a yellow bird on a branch and the binoculars revealed the beautiful red streaks on the breast of a male Yellow Warbler. Wonderful.

At the next campsite at Goose Creek I heard a similar song to the yellow warbler but it was slightly different. I got a great look at the underside of a bird sitting directly above me but that didn't help too much. Finally a pair of birds flew past. One was yellow and black while the other was orange and black. They were American Redstarts. Absolutely beautiful. The Sibley guide doesn't do them justice.

So, gentle readers, that brings my count up to 89. Here I sit on the cusp of 90. What will it be? how long can the indogo bunting elude me?

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Okay, here are birds 83-85.

83 was kind of a gimme. It was the house finch. I'd seen them already this year but they weren't on my list since I wanted to take some time to really look at them.

84 was a fun one. The mourning warbler. Warblers are fun birds. Tom Anderson actually helped me out on this one. He heard the bird and I assumed it was an ovenbird. Their calls are similar. He assured me it was something different. It was hard to spot him as he was at the top of a tall aspen. We spotted him eventually and made the positive ID with the yellow body and executioners hood. Cool bird.

85 I'm going to go ahead and count the Great-Crested Flycatcher. I didn't have my binoculars with me but I got a good view anyhow. WEEP! WEEP!

86 This was kind of a disappointing one. It was a Belted Kingfisher. This is the local version of the Cookaburra of Austrailian song fame. I just caught a glimpse of it on a telephone wire on the way to work. There is nothing else it could have been so it counts but I wish I could have stopped to get a better look. Maybe some other time. They are beautiful birds.

Still no sighting of an indigo bunting for me. Soon hopefully.


Monday, May 29, 2006


I took this great photo just the other day of a pileated woodpecker. Pileated are the largest woodpecker in Minnesota and, if you don't count the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, they are the largest in North America. These guys are huge. They have a wingspan of 29 inches! This one got caught in a bird mist net at the nature center and a bird bander is actually holding the bird. My telephoto lens isn't that good! Catching a pileated in a mist net isn't unheard of but it is notable. They caught one last year as well but it had been three years before that when the last one was caught.

You can tell this is a male because of the bold red line under his eye. Both males and females have the red crest but the line is unique to the males. Though clearly alarmed (his crest is sticking up) he was pretty docile in the hand. That huge beak could do some serious damage to your hands but luckily he took it all well.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Morning Music

This morning I pulled an old gem out of my CD case. I picked out the classic 1983 Midnight Oil album 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. This has always been one of my favorites for the raw emotion of the songs. I'm always a little surprised how fresh the lyrics seem. You'd think the world would be capable of just a little change in all these years. This verse, from the song, US Forces, always seems relevant, maybe even more so today.

Us forces give the nod, it's a setback for your country
Bombs and trenches all in rows, bombs and threats still ask for more
Divided world the cia, who controls the issue
You leave us with no time to talk, you can write your assessment
The full lyrics to the song Read About It are some of my favorite though.
The rich get richer, the poor get the picture
The bombs never hit you when you're down so low
Some got pollution, some revolution
There must be some solution but i just don't know
The bosses want decisions, the workers need ambitions
There won't be no collisions when they move so slow
Nothing ever happens, nothing really matters
No one ever tells me so what am i to know

You wouldn't read about it, read about it
Just another incredible scene, there's no doubt about it

Hammer and the sickle, the news is at a trickle
The commissars are fickle but the stockpile grows
Bombers keep acoming, engines softly humming
The stars and stripes are running for their own big show
Another little flare up, storm brewed in a tea cup
Imagine any mix up and the lot would go
Nothing ever happens...

You wouldn't read about it, read about it
One unjust ridiculous steal, ain't no doubt about it
You wouldn't read about it, read about it
Just another particular deal, there's no doubt about it
As I begin the work day one line from Tin Legs and Tin Mines keeps ringing in my head.
" Who's running the world today?"

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I'm an Octabirder

I thought I'd take a minute at lunch here to say that I have now pushed into the 80s in my quest to see how many wild birds I can ID in one year. Numbers 77-82 were as follows.

Northern Waterthrush
Green Heron
Eastern Kingbird
Song Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Chimney Swift

At this point I'm feeling prety good about breaking 100. I'm planning on going to Norway this fall so that should help me add a slew of birds! Still, it will be interesting to see how many birds I can spot at Warner, In Minnesota, In North America and finally internationally.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Got the Spirit of '76

The list keep on growing. Yesterday I saw a Baltimore Oriole. On the drive to work today, I spotted an Eastern Meadowlark near the corner of Co. Rd. 4 and Co. Rd. 15 (Manning Ave). It was classically sitting on a fence post. I am about 90% sure I saw a great crested flycatcher but because I didn't have my binoculars and i am not %100 on their call I am not going to count it. I took a hike while I ate my lunch and got a good look at a field sparrow. I have heard them many times but this was the first time I have gotten a really good view. I had 7x35 bincular on a pair of them from about 10 feet away. They are prettier than the drawings in the Sibley book.

In a cool development, someone spotted a red headed woodpecker long Norell Ave about one mile from the nature center. I spotted a read headed woodpecker my first year here and everyone thinks I am crazy. I know where this one was spotted so I have my eyes open every day.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

More Birdies

So, I posted that I am at 70 birds. Later that same day I spotted a male Common Yellow Throat so makes that 71. I also spotted an American Kestrel. Weird I commented on spotting one back on my March 27th post but didn't include it in my list. So, I'm at 72. I then remembered that I have, of course, seen Pigeons. So, 73 birds. I only have 27 more birds to go.

If I had to predict I'd say I hope to see the following. (In no particular order)

Belted Kingfisher
Chimney Swift
Indigo Bunting
Stellar's Jay
Eastern Meadowlark
Green Heron
Brown Thrasher
House Finch
Blue Winged Teal
House Wren
Baltimore Oriole
Scarlet Tanager
Ruby Throated Hummingbird
Wood Thrush
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Trumpeter Swan
Snowy Owl
Grey Catbird
Ring Billed Gull
Sandhill Crane
Black and White Warbler

That would only take me to 97. If I get these what will the other 3 be?


Thursday, May 11, 2006

And then there were 70.

I just had to post this. I remembered today that I saw a common raven in Arizona in March and that wasn't on my list. I then got a pretty good look at a common grackle on the way to an outreach program so I could finally scratch it off my list. I mentioned to Paul that I was at 69 and he told me to go look at the feeders because people were seeing Rose Breasted Grosbeaks all day. I strolled across the building only to discover the only visitor at the feeders was a red squirrel. Paul swore they had been seen and headed back to the office. Just as the door closed behind him a male Rose breasted grosbeak gently landed on the wire holding up the string of feeders.

Seventy birds and counting.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Counting Birds

I thought I'd already started this list here but apparently not. I've decided to see if I can spot 100 different birds this year. My fellow naturalist Paul Smithson is currently ahead in the standings.

Here is my bird list thus far. I spotted the barred owl and barn swallow today so I am now at 67.

Black throated sparrow
Great tailed grackle
Great egret
Great blue heron
Mallard duck
Violet green sparrow
Mourning dove
White crowned sparrow
Gambel's quail

Great horned owl
Cactus wren
Curve billed thrasher
Cliff swallow
White breasted nuthatch
Ruby crowned kinglet
Western Bluebird
Yellow rumped warbler (Audubons)
Anna's hummingbird

Common Goldeneye
Common loon
Wood duck
Wild Turkey
Red bellied woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker
Brown creeper
Northern cardinal
American robin

Blue jay
American goldfinch
Dark eyed junco (slate colored)
Pileated woodpecker
Black capped chickadee
Purple finch
Red shouldered hawk
Bald eagle
Hermit thrush
American crow

Eastern Phoebe
Cedar waxwing
European starling
Ring necked duck
Canada goose
House sparrow
Fox sparrow
Turkey vulture
Hooded merganser

Ring necked pheasant
Brown headed cowbird
Tree swallow
Yellow bellied sapsucker
American coot
Red tailed hawk
Eastern bluebird
American woodcock
Eastern Towhee

White throated sparrow
Tufted titmouse
Red breasted nuthatch
Yellow rumped warbler (Myrtle)
Chipping sparrow
Barred owl
Barn swallow

What will be next? If I had to guess I'd say I'm due to see a sandhill crane, an oriole, an ovenbird and if I actually stepped outside and looked I could hunt down a grackle, song sparrow and field sparrow. Weirdly I also haven't seen a house wren. I guess I just need to look. I've heard a bunch of other birds but those don't count.


Sunday, April 23, 2006


I'm about 90% recovered from my hard drive crash. I now have most of my data back but it will be a week or so before I get the actual computer back with a new hard drive. I am so thankful that I have my writing as well as my cartoon drawings. I am working on an online flash cartoon in the evenings and many hours go into making each character, set, vehicle, sound, etc. Here's a gem I'm thankful to have saved.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Feminine side

While eating lunch the other day I noticed the title of the feature article in the Utne Reader. It was : "Embrace Your Feminine (You too, guys)"

The title immediately sent up my hackles as it reminded me of a moment back in high school.

It was the end of my junior year as I stepped into the gymnasium to pick up my yearbook. In the past, our yearbooks had just been delivered to our classroom but this year was different. People enjoyed this new distribution method as it was a great opportunity to see a lot of people and get them to sign your book. At one point I ran into my friend Steve. Steve was a senior and a guy I looked up to. We hadn't really had a huge amount of time to spend together that year but we'd done some cool things and had some great conversations. It was too bad that he was a senior and I was a junior because he was going off to college and inevitably we'd not be able to have those great conversations and share ideas on music, the universe and everything. While this wasn't the last day of school it was very close and signing a person's yearbook brings a kind of closure. We talked for a little while and then said, "see you around," knowing that wouldn't be the case. We gave each other a hug, which was not unusual for my group of friends and that's where the story really begins. One of our female friends who was standing around saw us hug each other goodbye and said something to the effect of, "It's so great to see men comfortable expressing their feminine side."

We were both taken aback by this statement and it turns out we were both thinking the same thing. You see, women want sensitive men. They want us to express ourselves. They want us to be in touch with our feelings and emotions, as well as the feelings and emotions of others. This is not something I work on. My Meyers-Briggs profile is INFP. I am Intorvert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perciever. (Thank Dog I wasn't raised Catholic or I'd be full of self hatred.) It is in my nature to exhibit characteristics some are so quick to label, "feminine."

Herein lies the problem. To label actions feminine and masculine is to assign them to a specific gender. These are the things men do and these are the things women do. Women want men to show their emotions but when they do, the women then label those actions "feminine" i.e. something that is contrary to the very nature of what a man is.

Is it any wonder men don't want to show emotions when women label men as feminine for doing so?

You can't have your cake and eat it too women. If you want men to show that they are in touch with their feelings and if you want them to express their emotions then you need to give up on the monopoly and stop calling these things feminine.

Imagine this, a woman friend applies for a job as a corporate CEO (traditionally a male role) and I say to her, "Hey, it's good to see you showing your masculine side." I would guess I would no longer be able to count her as a friend. The statement is totally offensive.

Is it really any different when women comment on men "showing their feminine side?"

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Last night Chelsey and I had a discussion about the definition of some words. She claimed she had seen authors using "sorites" to mean party. The correct term would be soirees. This all came up because we couldn't remember the name of an episode of Firefly. I remembered the next day that is was Shindig. Oh well. I looked up sorites as she spelled it and was confused even more because I was confusing sorites with sorties. Ah language.

I continued to flip though the dictionary amusing myself when I came upon the word lentil. Of course a lentil is a small pea like seed we eat. Close by in the dictionary, I spotted the word lenticular. Of course, lenticular, which I always associate with lenses actually means "shaped like a lentil". The word lens comes from the word lenticular. So, the lenses in my glasses and telescope eyepieces are actually named lenses because they resemble a lentil.

Weird. I never knew.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Timberdoodle Twirl

(Note: This appeared as my April "Au Naturel" column in Stillwater Living Magazine)

I remember being nervous in high school as I waited to be asked to the Valentine's day "sweetheart" dance. Not being asked was my girlfriends subtle way of setting me free. I spent the evening with a friend driving to Darwin, Minnesota to see the biggest ball of twine in the world. I've perhaps been skeptical of dances ever since.

Now, later in life and as a professional naturalist, I think about one dance in particular as I prematurely take off layers of wool and don shorts on fifty degree days. The signs of spring tell me it is time for the Timberdoodle Twirl.

The Twirl, a.k.a. the Sky Dance, is a secretive event that only occurs in the spring. Naturalists have attended the twirl for centuries and yet it remains a little known event to most outsiders.

You will not be invited to the Twirl. There are no invitations and no awkward propositions. You don't need to trek to the giant twine ball when you're not invited to the dance.

If you want to attend the Timberdoodle Twirl you need to first figure out where it is held. If you are lucky enough to know someone who has been to one in the past then you have an easy in. The only other option is to hunt down the location on your own.

Although locations do change, the Twirl often takes place in the same spot for generations. Timberdoodle Twirls are usually situated on the edge of meadows. There must be enough room to twirl. There must also be a woods nearby with young trees such as aspen and alders. A stand of sumac may work in a pinch. It all depends how picky the dancers are.

The Timberdoodle Twirl is an elaborate dance that can only be performed by the highly experienced and rules dictate that it can only be performed in the dying rays of twilight. A full moon rising in the east makes it all the better. Dim lighting sets the mood. The Twirl is about one thing; bonding with hopes of mating.

If you think you're up to participation in the Twirl keep in mind that none of the naturalists are. There are two requirements. To perform in the Timberdoodle Twirl you must first off be a male. This precludes half the population but you must also be able to flap your arms hard enough to fly. This tends to rule out the rest of us.

To actually take part in the Timberdoodle Twirl, you must be a timberdoodle. The males of this strange slightly spherical species perform an elaborate mating dance we naturalists call the Timberdoodle Twirl or the Sky Dance. The timberdoodle, also known as the American woodcock, is a secretive bird that spends most of its time in the woods probing the ground with a ridiculously long beak. Technically, the woodcock is a shorebird but with the beaches being such historically crowded places who can blame it for preferring the solitude of the woods?

In the woods, the sensitive beak searches the earth for worms and insects. With eyes on the sides of its head it can see both in front of and behind itself at the same time. It can also see above itself, which is useful for keeping an eye on both predators and dancers.

Any evening, April through May, you may have luck discovering the secret dance of the timberdoodle. As the sun sets, listen for the buzzy "peent" call of the male bird. It shouts to the females, "Look at me, I am about to dance." This is personally a declaration I have never shouted on a dance floor so I admire the bird's self esteem.

After a few minutes of peenting, the male soars two hundred feet or more into the sky. The spiraling skyward travel is accompanied by a twittering sound produced not from the throat of the bird but by air rushing over the wings. If you approach from the east you can see the bird silhouetted against the dying rays of the day.

The bird then sings a dreamlike courtship song in a liquidly warble while beginning a leaf-like fluttering descent to the earth. It goes silent a few feet from the ground and alights gently on the dance floor.

Upon landing, he immediately starts up with the peents again, trying to call in a female to watch his elaborate dance.

The springtime ritual of the Timberdoodle Twirl probably occurs near your home. Visitors to Lake Elmo park have seen it and Warner Nature Center offers a guided Timberdoodle Twirl program each spring.

When you discover the secret location of the Timberdoodle Twirl, hold that information dear. You are witness to a marvel seen by few. Remember though, unless you can fly, you'll be asked to sit this dance out.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Would you fly with these men?

I blame the bizarre music on the headphones for these photos taken over the grand canyon.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Just a quick note here. Eariler this week I heard the first frogs of the year. The western chorus frogs started first at the east end of the bog. Yesterday as I left work the wood frogs were finally singing as well. What a change in just a few days! The "peeper pond" as we call it was full of life yesterday when it was frozen just a few days ago. Julie, who left work about an hour and a half after me claims she heard spring peepers as well.


Friday, March 31, 2006

Recovering from Winter's Crash

(FYI: A version of this appeared in The St. Croix Valley Press. They edited the last paragraph so it no longer made sense. Ah the joy of being edited.)

This week, an abundance of new sounds appeared at Warner Nature Center. We’ve begun to hear the calls of new spring arrivals such as cardinals, robins, red-winged black birds, Canada geese and sand-hill cranes. We’ve also heard winter residents such as the black-capped chickadee and the American goldfinch as they begin their spring songs.

A new song joined the spring chorus yesterday. It was most unexpected and unwelcome. Though it resembled the sharp loud cherr of an agitated squirrel, it was actually the sound of my computer’s hard drive self-destructing. All of the data stored on it was lost in an instant. I am trying really hard to not feel completely sick about this. I lost a lot of my writing including an entire year's worth of articles I wrote for 2006-2007 issues of The Interpreter.

Winter is the great hard drive crash of the world. In the cold dim light of winter, everything either slows down or stops completely. As a naturalist, I am amazed by the diversity in nature. This annual sub zero crash is handled in many different ways. Some birds and mammals decide to tough out winter by staying active. If food runs out, this choice can be deadly.

Other animals, most notably birds, migrate south in search of food as winter approaches. This seems a sensible approach but migration for birds isn’t as simple as hopping a jumbo jet to warmer climes. The migration survival rate varies but it can be a low as 30 percent. Flying south is nature’s way of backing up bird data. When the crash of winter comes, the data in the form of the species genetic diversity, has flown south. With failure rates as high as 70 percent I don’t think flying my hard drive south is a good option in the future.

Another back-up in nature is to protect oneself through hibernation. We think of hibernation as a great way to sleep off winter but hibernation is risky as well. A high percentage of small mammals that go into hibernation never make it back out. They perish underground; silent victims of nature.

If staying, migration and hibernation as so dangerous, how can they be considered a successful way for nature to back itself up for winter’s crash? The answer is abundance. Nature provides for the sheer abundance of individuals within a species so that when faced with mortal challenges such as winter, enough will survive to carry on.

Spring is the season of abundance. It is so clear and welcoming to my winter eyes. That abundance is both the key to and the result of nature’s ability to back itself up. I too made a back up a short while before my computer crashed. I copied my most important files onto a disk. It won't be a perfect back up but it is better than nothing. I may have to load those old files onto a new computer, the songs out my window tell me our Minnesota landscape is being reborn as well.

Monday, March 27, 2006


I'm crazy swamped this time of year but I thought I should mention some phenology here. I spotted about 50 robins a couple of weeks ago and then in the last few days I have seen geese, American kestrels and red wing black birds. On Saturday the birds were singing spring like crazy. I heard cardinals at my house in the morning and then out at Warner the chickadees and cardinals were going nuts! I heard the chickadees singing "hon-ey, hon-ey" a few times this winter but on Saturday they were screeming "HON-EY, HON-EY!" They were really psyched about the weather. We all were! I also caught a glimpse of the beaver down at the lake.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Winter Wonderland?

From my tree top office in the woods I can look out over the woods of Warner Nature Center and survey the sights. This past winter I watched toddlers scurry across the snowy back yard and approach the woods. A barrier stood in their way. An enormous wall of snow blocked their passage. They bravely climbed up to the top, and then slid down the other side.

I remember mountains of snow when I was a kid too. I remember snow forts and a magical winter wonderland called Minnesota. As an adult, and as a naturalist who teaches snowshoeing, I lament the lack of snow these days. Is there really a lack of snow though? To the toddlers, the three foot high snow bank left by our site manager's snowplow is enormous. It stands higher than their heads!

Last night I heard on the news that a nor'easter hit the eastern seaboard. It was so large it had an eye like a hurricane. It dropped upwards of three feet of snow. In the new winter storm scale it was a category three of a possible five. This is not Minnesota. We like to think of ourselves as a snowy winter wonderland but are we really just a cold winter wonderland?

I searched the records to be sure. I am a child of the 80s so I looked at the annual snowfall from 1981-1986. The totals were as follows:

81-82 95.0 inches
82-83 74.4 inches
83-84 98.4 inches
84-85 72.7 inches
85-86 69.5 inches

The same data for the past five years reads as follows

00-01- 75.8 inches
01-02 66 inches
02-03 35 inches
03-04 66.3 inches
04-05 25.5 inches

So, I'm not crazy and it wasn't just that I was a lot shorter back then. There was far more snow when I was a kid. The average for those five years at the beginning of the 80s was 82 inches. That's 6.83 feet per year. The average for the past five years has only been 53.72 inches or 4.47 feet per year.

Now, here's the bad news. If you total all the snow data for the past 122 years you find that the annual average snowfall is only 45.8 inches for the twin cities. That's right, three of the past five winters have been above average. The normal total snowfall is only 3.8 feet and keep in mind that that is snowfall, not how much snow actually sticks around.

Total Snowfall this winter as of today: 24 inches.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Shameless Self Promotion

While searching for friends on blogger I realized no one can find my blog because I only use my first name when I sign my posts.

So, to remedy that problem, I am Kirk Mona. Leave a comment or I will be forced to fustigate you in the head region.

On a seperate note,

Many thanks to my older brother Erik for teaching me words like fustigate.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Space Alive

In my last post I tried to show that space was alive with sound. When we look up at the night sky is seems static, sure it moves but we soon learn that that is largely due to the the motion of the Earth. I present for your enjoyment then two animated clips.

In this animated gif you can watch dust devils dance across the surface of mars. It blew my mind to see images of movement on another planet. Fantastic.

Another view of changing space is this time laspsed clip of star cluster M3. This was compiled over the course of one night. You can really see how the stars change in brightness.