December – Bombay Hook and Kathryn graduates

 

         Christmas Sonnet 2009

When naked trees reach their dark cold fingers

Into a grey sky weeping winter sleet

And in the yard a cottontail lingers

Searching for some small bit of food to eat

 

You might look back on long past Christmas cheer

And hear a lost voice whisper in your head.

Or, God forbid, your bonus check this year

Comes as a pink letter surprise instead.

 

And you may hope the presents you have bought,

Arranged in festive groups beneath the tree,

Will be the hoped for gifts that will have caught

The magic and beauty of Christmas Eve.

 

That’s when you look into your loved ones’ hearts,

You’ll find that’s where the joy of Christmas starts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Goldfinch snacking on Crape Myrtle berries, Exton, December, 2013

 

 

 

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Exton, PA, December, 2013

 

      Here are a two backyard pics that I did with the new camera.  Everything from January to November was done with my original camera.  I resisted the urge to replace some of the early photos with better shots.  Somehow that would seem like cheating; sort of like going back and changing your answers on a crossword puzzle after you get the answer sheet.  The year is about over and there are lots of things that I had hoped to do that I let go.  A short list would have to include local birding at Wissahickon Creek and Ridley State Park, visiting the heron rookery in the Delaware River in Delaware, going to the Cape May Birding Festival, seeing the peak of the northern shorebird migration on the Delaware Bay, participating in the Backyard Bird Count and the Christmas Bird Count, learning to use the features of my camera, join a photography group, set up some bird houses on my property, put in that outrageous creek and pond kit in the corner of my property, plant some more berry bushes, go birding in Florida  -- and keep my job, my family, and my walks.  I guess that list isn’t all that short and some of these items will be on the same list next year, along with completing the repairs on the fence.

 

 

12/5 – taking the camera on its first trip to Bombay Hook

The day was overcast, the bird census reports at Bombay Hook were underwhelming, and both Chris and I were feeling the start of the winter blahs.  But the camera wanted to go on a trip.  It kept bugging me and whining and being really annoying, so finally I gave up and said reluctantly, “Let’s go to Bombay Hook”.

      So the five of us (Chris, Beans, Eddie, the camera, and me) got in the Explorer and left for a day of birding.  The camera complained because the lighting was so poor.  There was thick fog right up until late morning.  After that, you could see clearly, but it was a very grey day.  Chris and the dogs had fun hiking around the refuge pools and I love any time that I get to spend in this magical place.  The camera tried to be a good sport, but he was clearly not having his best day.  Despite that, we came home with new pictures of Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Buffleheads, and a Bald Eagle.  While I was talking to a birder/photographer who was one of the very few other humans in the refuge this day, I casually snapped off dozens of pictures of a Black-necked Stilt feeding with a flock of Avocets.  The tall, thin bird with its stark white belly and black back and head with a white eye ring and a long, thin, straight, black bill looks strange and primitive.  He contrasts with the much plumper, softly tinged, curve-billed Avocets.  Usually the Avocets are gone someplace warmer by December and, even though the Stilts breed at Bombay Hook, they are hard to see and uncommon in the Northeast.  So seeing them together was an especially nice treat.

      As we watched the Shorebirds in Shearness Pool, we noticed some squawking from the other side of the road in the big bay behind us.  There was a small flock of Snow Geese there and another flock was flying in to join them.  This kept up all day with bigger and bigger flocks of geese coming in.  At times the sky would be full of geese from one end of the pool to the other.  By the early afternoon there was an enormous gathering of Snow Geese.  I guessed conservatively that there were over 50,000 geese.  Chris, who is pretty good at this, guessed 80,000.  The pool was full of loudly honking geese; none of them fighting; all of them obviously elated to be at a goose event that would absolutely blow away Woodstock (although it would still fall short of a NASCAR rally, both in crowd size and decibel level).

      Here are some of the pics:

 

                                                                        

 

Black-necked Stilt with Avocets, Bombay Hook, 12/5/2013

 

  Northern Shoveler, Bombay Hook, 12/5/2013

 

 

Bald Eagle, Bombay Hook, 12/5/2013

 

a small part of the flock of Snow Geese at Bombay Hook on 12/5/2013

 

 

 

Snow Geese in a field just outside Bombay Hook, 12/5/2013

 

 

Adult Northern Pintails, Bombay Hook, 12/5/2013

 

 

Black-necked Stint, Bombay Hook, 12/05/2013

 

Avocets, Bombay Hook, 12/05/2013

 

 

12/20 – Kathryn graduates

Kathryn has been busy this year.  She was a Resident Advisor, a Penn State lifeguard, grad school applicant, real job interviewee, and a student finishing school a semester early, graduating with highest honors.  After years in the cocoon of State College, she was a little nervous stepping out into the rest of the world.  She is leaving school smart, confident, enthusiastic, and healthy.  The same approaches that led her to academic success will most likely continue to work in the years ahead.  That’s the plan.

      At her invocation, I showed off my camera to Mike and Rachel by photographing a piece of paper on a chair in her row and reading the student’s name off of it.  They suggested that when I finally get fired from my job, I could start a new career as a spy.  That’s the kind of spontaneous family support that every guy should have!  The main speaker was the interim president who was put in place by the college to smooth over the Joe Paterno/ Graham Spannier/ Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal and cover up.  The nice old trouper predictably told us that the bad old days of institutional corruption, lies, and preying on innocent young people are over.  His exact words were more like, “Penn State’s blackest days are behind us”.  I might have thought that he was sincere, if he hadn’t been saying this to hundreds of young people who had exchanged over $100,000 and four years or more of their lives to obtain Communications degrees and Liberal Arts degrees.  Maybe he was sincere and just stupid – stupid like a fox with a gigantic pension.  But the people around me, including my own family, found him pleasant, engaging, and innocuous.  After a while, I tuned him out and thought about the address that I would never be invited to give.  Something like:

 

     “When you play poker, a good rule is to not throw good money after bad.  If your opponent’s stack of chips is a lot bigger than yours, it is very hard to bluff him.  If you become convinced that you have a losing hand, calculate your pot odds and don’t make any more bad bets.  If you don’t know what this means, it is imperative that you get someone to explain it to you.

      “If you owe a lot of money and have a realistic plan to pay it back, then you probably are not holding a losing hand.  If you don’t have a lucrative job lined up, but you didn’t go badly into debt, and you are okay with your situation, then that is also not a losing hand.  But if you went deeply into debt with no short term prospects to pay it back, please stop.  Reevaluate.  Is grad school likely to be a way out or likely to just dig you a bigger hole?  It is much better to take a job that lacks prestige, but offers you a path out of debt and a start towards independence, than to just keep delaying the inevitable.  It is not okay to sit at home and wait for a good break.  It is not okay to use alcohol or drugs during the week, or to get wasted on the weekend.  Whether you spend the next few years in corporate America, on an organic farm, or in the service industry, you need to be in top shape every Monday morning.  You need to arrive on time, ready and eager to give value at work, and all week long give passionate energy to your activities.  Do this consistently and opportunity will chase you and catch you.

      “Be wary of adults telling you to ‘follow your passion’.  That could work out well, but it could also lead to decades of unemployment or underemployment.  Consider all the pros and cons before trying to turn your hobby into your job (I know, it isn’t a hobby.  It’s your passion. Sure).  Instead, be passionate about everything that you do.  You have a lot of skills, some wonderful talents, and tremendous support from family and friends.  Use every asset to build a good life.

      “Graduation day is supposed to be a celebration and a party.  The celebration is for what you are and what you can be.  The celebration is for what you will give to the world in the decades ahead.  Don’t kid yourself that the post-graduate game has the same rules that you’ve been living with for the last four years.  Be confident and assertive as you set up your pieces to play your parts in the games to come.  Actually it is a lot of fun.”

 

       That’s the kind of address I would give, so even if I had doctoral degrees and stuff, I wouldn’t get invited to speak at the party.  No one wants to admit that college is not primarily about learning, but about money.  I challenge any college professor to offer his course to the general public for free, without grades, and without credit towards a degree.  Most professors would get no takers and the few that get an audience would probably be in philosophy or the creative arts and the students would be more attracted by the celebrity status of that particular professor, rather than by a sincere desire to learn the material.  The General Education course in art that was part of Kathryn’s graduation requirements had no studio time.  The students picked up and paid for materials from the book store, constructed an “art” project in their rooms, and were graded by their “art instructor” over Skype.  How many people would spend their free time on this class?  Kathryn and I paid over $500 per credit for this three credit waste of time.  The money aspect of college is the college collecting money from a coalition of students, parents, grants, donors, and indirectly from the government loan programs.  On the other side of the implied bargain is the expectation that students will get more that their investment back in terms of increased salaries for the rest of their lives.  In terms of learning, that happens at college.  It also happens outside of college.  Most of the time, for the really valuable stuff, you don’t pay tuition and fees.

 

 

 

12/26 – back at Crow’s Nest

I went back to Crow’s Nest NLT to try for a better photo of the Redheaded Woodpeckers.  It was overcast, but occasionally the sun would break through the clouds.  The birds were in the open area where the boardwalk leads up to the creek.  They were so far away and so high up that my hand held photos still were blurry.  When one bird finally flew close and landed in a very near tree on the other side of the trail, I was looking directly into the suddenly bright sun.  That’s the best that I’ll get for now.

      Another birder told me that there is hope that this is not just a one season infestation.  He told me that the current count for the location is thirty-five Redheads. That’s enough to attract some serious attention, including a trip by some of the ornithologists from Cornell Lab.

Redheaded Woodpecker, Crow’s Nest NLT, 12/26/2013

 

 

12/28 – Bombay Hook

For months my plan for the last birding trip of the year was for me and Kathryn to hike out into the snow-covered Bear Meadows Bog near State College.  In the quiet of nature, we would make insightful observations about her graduation, about the nature of change, and about the passage of the seasons.  Instead we all went skating at Penn State’s new ice rink.  It really would have been wrong to give Bear Meadows both the opening and closing spots in my circus.  In the winter, it is not a very good birding spot.  There aren’t even many crows or jays.  The closing spot belongs to Bombay Hook, so that’s where Kathryn and I went on the last weekend of 2013.

      We didn’t record any life birds or come up with any philosophical revelations, but we had a very nice day together.  We got pictures of a Tundra Swan in flight, a picture of a Bufflehead taking off, an awesome picture of a Harrier flying straight at us, and a very nice picture of a male and female Hooded Merganser pair in full breeding plumage.  I really like that last one, although the sharp-eyed critics in my family and also at work all pointed out that the focus is on the spot between the birds and the birds are slightly out of focus.  True, but I’m still not that picky.  Maybe I’ll get more focused next year.

      Kathryn and I may have made a few pithy observations about life on the car ride, but I don’t remember them.  Mostly we talked about what was going on in her life this week, preparing for an upcoming job interview, trying to keep grad school in perspective, and stories about her last semester.  We also reminisced a little about travel softball trips and the too many visits to the diners on those events.  Behind her are the days of inside-the-park home runs, 50-free style races, and A’s on tests.  Ahead is the unknown; but positive expectation for the future helps make the present very exciting.  What I remember most from the day is the statement that Kathryn made by just being there and how nice it was to be on a day trip with her at Bombay Hook.

 

Tundra Swan, Bombay Hook, December 2013

 

 

Bufflehead, Bombay Hook, December 2013

 

 

 

Hooded Mergansers, Bombay Hook, December 2013

 

 

 

 

Northern Harrier, Bombay Hook, December 2013