Monday, December 29, 2008


The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The shoes were another story.

Winter is the time when nature dials back and retrenches: trees are bare, fields lie fallow, and birds and animals quietly gather their strength for the frenzy of spring migration and breeding. And thus it is for humans too: winter is a time of rest and redemption, of reflection and quiet anticipation of new beginnings.

And this is my official excuse for sitting on my bum doing nothing for the greater part of the week.

Christmas was everything I hoped it would be: the rainy weather was a perfect excuse to relax indoors with the family, catch up with a year of gossip, and feast on amazing food—it seems that my family's Christmas spreads just get better every year.

As soon as the rain passed, of course, my mind turned to birding. The Orange County Birding listserv was buzzing as usual with lots of interesting sightings, but for some reason, I didn't feel like chasing too hard. Part of this was low-level burnout after the 15-hour marathon that was the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count (during which I aggravated an already bad cold, pulled a chest muscle from coughing, and infected half the membership of Alachua Audubon), and part of it was just...sloth. I was home, and I didn't feel like wandering.

So my birding outings this week have been boring and predictable-yet, for me, deeply enjoyable. During long walk through Talbert Nature Reserve down to the beach on Sunday, I found about 20 Canvasbacks in the little pond by the Victoria Street bridge. At Huntington Central Park yesterday, I tried and failed to locate the McGillivray's Warbler and Black-throated Gray Warbler by the Gothard Street parking lot. They certainly could have been in there, though—when we arrived, warblers were calling and darting through the trees everywhere. About 90% of them were Yellow-rumpeds, but there were also good numbers of Common Yellowthroats, as well as Orange-crowned, Wilson's, and Townsend's Warblers:

There were so many birds flying around that finding the lone McGillivray's in the crowd would have been like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Glenn played its song a few times on his iPod, with no response (at least not from the McGillivray's Warbler—it did manage to seriously piss off a Hermit Thrush, who jumped up and glared as us for about a minute before taking off again).

A few minutes later, we ran into another birder who told us he had just seen a Yellow-throated Vireo. So of course, we followed him back to the spot where he had seen it, and found—after about half an hour of looking—that it had taken off. But we still had fun watching a huge flock of Cedar Waxwings plucking berries from the trees and fighting for perching space.

At Bolsa Chica yesterday afternoon, we didn't see anything we hadn't seen before. But after coming back from north-central Florida, where birders can usually expect to see at most two or three duck species at a time, and usually at spotting-scope-only distance, it was fun being on the Bolsa Chica footbridge again—Lesser Scaups, Ruddy Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Buffleheads, and Surf Scoters were all bobbing around only a few yards away. I realize now how lucky I am to have learned to bird out here!

We stayed at Bolsa Chica until it was dark, so Glenn could get some sunset shots. I love watching the birds fly in for the night.

For the past few years, this was always how we ended our weekends: watching the Sunday evening sunset at Bolsa Chica before heading home to gear up for the week ahead. But the great thing about being on vacation is that I still have a few more weekend days to go!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Home for the Holidays

The best things about being home? Family, food, and photos that don't suck because I didn't take them!

I thought finals week would never end. But miraculously, it did, and on Friday, I finally escaped from the Gator Nation to return to California for winter break and Christmas with my family.

And now, I'm writing this from my parents' place in the Hollywood Hills, as I'm sitting in front of a Christmas tree almost as wide as it is tall,sipping a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and looking at the lights of Hollywood and the Miracle Mile sparkling a few miles away down the hill. I filed the final grades for my classes online this morning, and now fall semester is officially done. Life is good.

Almost as wonderful as finally seeing my family, and especially my husband Glenn, again, is the pleasure of hearing my homie birds. I almost forgot what it's like to hear dozens of House Finches going off at the same time, for no particular reason. And it was great hearing the perky "bouncing ball" chorus of Wrentits, even if they were impossible to see.

I just had to see all my old birds again. So Glenn and I spent Saturday morning at San Joaquin. I didn['t really care what we saw; even a morning I would have found eye-rollingly dull six months ago would have suited me fine.

And this was just as well: Even though some rarities had been spotted there recently (Hooded Mergansers, a Summer Tanager, and a Harris' Sparrow), we didn't see anything unusual. But I was happy just to see the usual suspects again: Bushtits, wintering Northern Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks, and huge flocks of Cedar Waxwings, feasting on berries. (I passed a number of bushes stripped bare by the hungry little guys).

Everywhere I've looked, I've seen and heard dive-bombing Anna's Hummingbirds, and twittering Dark-eyed Juncos and Bushtits. Nothing out of the ordinary, but good to see, like seeing family and old friends again.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

All I want for Christmas are a few more lifers! Like this Baltimore Oriole.

A few months ago, something evil happened to my car's stereo system--for some reason, the buttons on the face plate stopped working, which means I can no longer change radio stations or adjust the the volume on the darned thing. Now I'm stuck with the embarrassing soft-rock station I was listening to when the thing broke, and worst of all, said station has been playing non-stop Christmas music since Halloween. I can't decide which version of "There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays" I hate most: Bing Crosby's, The Carpenters' , or Barry Manilow's pseudo "jazz" version. (I could just drive with the radio off, but adversity builds character.)

All this xmas cheer was bringing out the Grinch in me: just when the rest of the world gets to slow down, build snowmen and gingerbread houses and basically have a gnarly time, I'm trapped in finals week hell, writing and grading exams and racing to get stuff ready for next semester, while getting more and more homesick by the moment. Being constantly reminded by a dead anorexic that I ought to be home with my family eating pumpkin pie only makes things worse.

But the second-best cure for homesickness is distracting yourself with the good stuff where you are that you can't find at home. So yesterday I threw myself into the glory that is north-central Florida by participating in the local Christmas Bird Count.

My team was to cover the north-eastern section of Gainesville, which includes several large parks and lots of tiny retention ponds. Most of us met at Morningside Nature Center at 5 a.m. to look for owls: the moon was nearly full and fantastically bright despite a layer of clouds. We had a gorgeous—but owl-less—early morning walk.

And of course, the slackers on the team who didn't join us until 7 went out to their assigned part of our territory, and immediately spotted a Great Horned Owl. Go figure.

Our team of seven broke into three subgroups, and I was lucky enough to be placed with our team leader, a naturalist who works for Gainesville's park system. He did most of the finding, and I made myself useful by writing everything down. Thanks to him, I managed to get two more lifers: a Brown-headed Nuthatch (a now-uncommon bird here that is only regularly seen locally in Morningside) and a Baltimore Oriole.

Between writing stuff down, counting things up, and trying to find more birds, I didn't have much time to take pictures. I wish I had gotten a shot of that Nuthatch! But we did manage to find a fairly cooperative Red-headed Woodpecker: they're gorgeous birds; their heads look like they're covered with red velvet:

We birded until 5, with a brief break at a surprisingly good pizza place for lunch. At 5:30, all 11 teams assembled for dinner and the final count-up: the first half of the event consisted of individual teams eating (yet more) pizza while frantically tallying up their sightings and trying to calculate distances and travel times involved. The highlight of the evening was the final collective reading: we went through all the expected county birds, and each team announced how many it had found. Someone entered all the numbers in a computer database, and the numbers (compared to past highs and typical records) were displayed on a video screen for all to watch.

Some teams got some good stuff: There was a sighting of a Limpkin, and the Harris' Sparrow at La Chua stuck around for the count, as hoped. Our territory didn't yield anything exceptional, except for the Nuthatches.

But it was still a great day of birding. And the pizza wasn't bad either.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction

Truth is Bittern fiction.

I'd never been to the Deep South before moving to Gainesville, and I wasn't sure what to expect. But I had some ideas, many of which were pretty close to the truth: Moss hanging from trees in a sinister manner? Check. People calling me "ma'am"? Check. Iced tea sweet enough to send hummingbirds into a diabetic coma? Yup. Locals spinning improbable but true yarns worthy of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. God yes...

Like the story a birder told me one day about a relative of hers who had survived the storming of Normandy: He was invited back to Normandy as an honored guest to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day—and upon seeing that beach again, had a long-delayed flashback, suffered a heart attack, and died on the spot. On the beach at Normandy. On D-Day.

And the story of what I hope was Gainesville's one and only serial killer: he targeted young woman, and one local student was so frightened, she had a burly male friend move in with her for protection. A few days later, the killer found and dispatched them both, ceremoniously placing the girl's head on the TV in the living room for the benefit of whoever found them.

I heard this story while standing by the girl's grave during the fall migration count.

Now here's my story: like the others, too weird to be true—and also, too strange for anyone to make up.

It happened at the Alachua Audubon field trip yesterday. We were having a productive morning: we had two very bold American Bitterns only feet away, both Glossy AND White-faced Ibises, and thousands of Sandhill Cranes. There were lots of good passerines, too: we were treated to sightings of Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos, a Black-and While Warbler, a pair of Loggerheaded Shrikes, and flocks of Chipping and White-crowned Sparrows.

At one point on the trail, our leader pointed out an area where he had recently encountered a pair of out-of-town birders playing a recording of an unfamiliar bird, and asked them what they were looking for.

Oh, they told him, we're looking for a Harris' Sparrow.

Did you hear of one around here? he asked, his curiosity piqued. He explained to us that the last known sighting of one in Alachua County was in 1973.

No, they said. But we drove all the way up to Louisiana to find some, and didn't see any. So we thought we'd stop by here on the way home to see if we got lucky.

We all got a good laugh out of this. Hey, why not play an Ivory-billed Woodpecker call and see what we could scare up? Ha ha.

We continued down the trail, and stopped to check out a flock of feeding White-crowned Sparrows just off the trail.

"Hey, what's that?" one of the birders asked.
"The one the left."
"Which one?"
"The big one. With the black throat."

Our trip leader trained his bins on it, as did the rest of us. It was bigger than the White-crowned Sparrows in the group. It had a black throat and buff cheeks...

"OH...MY...GOD!" he gasped. "IT'S A HARRIS' SPARROW!"

Stunned, we stood frozen in place as it twitched for several seconds, then dove into the brush. None of us with cameras had a chance to capture it.

You really can't make this stuff up. Strange things just happen here, just like that.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

On My Nightstand: Reading About Birds

(First in an occasional series.)

When I started birding a few years ago, I noticed something weird: I was in one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the country (Orange County, California, just south of Los Angeles) , but almost all the birders I met were white. And even they realized that this wasn't a good thing.

And so did John Robinson, one of the tiny number of African-American birders and professional naturalists. After years of enduring double-takes from people who'd never seen a black guy with a spotting scope, he began to investigate why so few people of color are birders. The result of his investigation is his book Birding For Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers.

Some of the answers he finds—gleaned from interviews and recent results of the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment— are unsurprising: A lack of role models. A lack of exposure to and education about the pleasures of the natural world. (Oddly, the top reason African-Americans surveyed gave for not birdwatching was a lack of time—something birders of all backgrounds can relate to.)

Some might wonder why it's a problem that the birding world is as white as a Bufflehead's belly: after all, birding is a hobby, not a career choice. So what if some of America's ethnic communities have different recreational preferences than others?

Robinson has a long-sighted answer: it's not just about the people. It's about the birds. Like it or not, non-white populations in the US are growing faster than white populations (back home in California, whites are already less than 50% of the state's population). And yes, non-white Americans do vote. Will this population be willing to support national parks and nature reserves if it has no idea what's in them? Will people be willing to support legal measures to protect wild birds if they've never seen one?

So, the fact that the youngest, fastest growing groups in the country have little interest or connection to the natural world not a just social problem: it's an environmental problem. And Robinson points out that he's not the only one to make this claim: it's long been a concern of environmental activists of all backgrounds.

Robinson's proposals to reverse this trend are eminently reasonable: Outreach efforts to schools and low-income communties by environmental professionals (including commerical birding enterprises such as optics companies). Get birding and nature advocates involved in educational partnerships with groups such as Head Start. And while he emphasizes that the white birders he's encountered have been welcoming and friendly, he recommends that nature reserves and birding groups target some of their public relations campaigns explicity to minority audiences.

Robinson's book simultaneously addresses two audiences: people of color on the verge of becoming birders, and experienced birders/environmental activists interested in making the birding world more inclusive. This makes the work a bit schizophrenic: the former group may not be interested in statistics about why people like them aren't birding, and the latter won't care about the detailed instructions about how to use binoculars effectively.

He also plays down the role of cultural factors in the absence of minority birders, only mentioning that cultural preferences have been examined and are considered "controversial". I can't speak for the African-American community, but I do know that less-assimilated Asian-Americans would rank birding somewhere between beer pong and karaoke on the scale of usefulness in personal and professional development. (When I first saw Robinson's book, I immediately imagined equivalent volumes addressed to my peeps: "Just Because It's Inedible, Doesn't Mean It's Uninteresting! Birding for Chinese-Americans" or "Birding: It Will Raise Your AP Biology Scores and Look Awesome on Your Yale Application!")

Someone needs to spell out (diplomatically) the uncomfortable truth: some cultures put less emphasis on the importance and sanctity of the natural world than others, and it's up to insiders with a knowledge and understanding of these cultures to change this. (Sigh. Okay, I just did it.).

And here's something else I'd tell an inner-city or newly-immigrated would-be birder: Birding doesn't have to be expensive. Sure, there are a lot of people out there with $1000+ bins who regularly jet to Costa Rica to expand their life lists, but you can still have an amazing time without doing this. (In about three years, I've gotten over 300 lifers and had tons of fun with my $60 no-brand Sports Chalet binoculars.)

But these are quibbles. Robinson has performed an important service by pointing out that environmental stewardship—and enjoyment of the natural world—are too often perceived as white concerns instead of what they are: human concerns. And his passion for birds, and for serving as a role model to minority birders, is contagious. I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes this mission next.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Third Rail

Rail #1: Sora

After last week's fire ant attack, I was tempted to skip birding this weekend. I've practically scratched my left leg off, it's freezing out, and I've got a ton of work to do before the semester ends—not to mention tons of prep for my classes next semester. By Friday, I'd more or less decided to stay indoors and away from biting insects until my leg healed and my to-do list shrunk to manageable proportions.

Then I came to my senses and went out anyways. If stayed in, I'd spend more time wondering what I was missing than working.

So on Sunday, I headed to Cedar Key with the Alachua Audubon field trip group. Our leader warned us that the birding could either be wonderful or non-existent: on one hand, the tide was going to be up when we were scheduled to arrive, meaning little shorebird activity. On the hand, the cold front could well drive in some interesting birds. And there was only one way to find out which way it would be...

Our first stop was on the edge of town, where we pulled off to the side of the road to look for shorebirds. The tide was lower than we expected, and huge flocks of Dunlins, Western Sandpipers, American Oystercatchers, and other usual suspects were feeding off in the distance. We also had a large group of American Avocets—a common bird back in Orange County, but a good sighting here.

In the reeds not far from us, someone spotted a Sora. I heard, but didn't see, a Clapper Rail: Someone played its call, but there was no response.

These were good birds, but we were now on the lookout for sparrows: the swampy area across the street was a known hangout for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows. And it wasn't long before we found one:

Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow

This was a lifer for me, and I was happy. Then several more came into view, along with several Marsh Wrens. I love Marsh Wrens and haven't seen any since leaving California, so it was a pleasure to see and hear them again. For some reason, seeing them again reminded me that it won't be long until I get to go home for Christmas. Yay!

Soon after, another Sora popped into view, followed by a bold Virginia Rail, who moved in and out of the reeds, occasionally pecking at a dead sand crab nearby:

Rail #2: Virginia Rail

Someone started playing a Seaside Sparrow song on his iPod, but with no response. "Can you play a Clapper Rail?" on of the others asked, "There was one on the other side, but I missed it--and I've never seen one."

The iPod's owner was happy to oblige—and so was one of the local Clappers:

Rail #3: Clapper Rail

"Whoa. How about a Black Rail?" someone else asked. We tried that, and were met with only stillness. We had been lucky, and now we were greedy.

And this was just the first half hour of our trip. Our other major findings were a Bronzed Cowbird (another lifer for me), several Bald Eagles, and the discovery that birding near the runway of Cedar Key's tiny airport is not a good idea. (The police officer who informed us of this suggested that we go to the cemetery instead to look for Ospreys.)

By time we finished up at the cemetery (one skinny juvenile Osprey and a couple of strangely pale, nearly leucistic Red-trailed Hawks), it was almost 1:30 (we had assembled in Gainesville at 6:30), and I was hungry to the point of distraction. My carpool mate was as well, so we stopped at a local seafood place for lunch, where I made my second-to-last useful discovery of the day: Datil pepper sauce is really good on fried seafood. And most other things too, most likely.

My final discovery? On some lucky days, you don't have to work to be productive. And three rails in a day is enough.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You Just Missed It

Beautiful but birdless: weekend scenery from La Chua Trail

This should have been a great weekend for birding, but for some reason, it wasn't. It started promisingly enough, with an Alachua Audubon field trip to Tuscawilla Prairie, an undeveloped tract of marshy prairie just outside the unbearably cute little town of Micanopy.

It had rained the night before, and was still drizzling that morning, so the ground was thick with mud when we arrived. I hate mud. There were no trails on the prairie, so we powered our way across the muddy expanse through 6-foot high dog fennel and other vegetation. We were headed towards an even wetter and muddier area where ducks and shorebirds had been seen, and as the mud got thicker,my feet got wetter and wetter. And then I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my left leg—as though someone had impaled it with hundreds of hot needles.

I looked down and saw a swarm of fire ants crawling up my leg. Their nests are usually easy to see and avoid, but not out there.

"Try to brush them off the best you can, " one of the other birders said, and I did—but then they started biting my hands as well.

This made it hard to focus on the birds. Which was a shame, as there were some good ones out there. Sedge Wrens were everyone, skulking in the underbrush and checking us out with their beady black eyes. Lots of Savannah and Swamp Sparrows, and potentially others as well—but I was in too much pain and not in any mood to race though the mud and and mosquito-filled brush to find them.

On the way back into Gainesville, we stopped at a little pond (actually, within walking distance of my place) that looked, as one of my carpool mates said, "shorebirdy." This was a fair assessment: we found both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, a Least Sandpiper, and a couple of Wilson's Snipes. This was the first time I'd seen one of these close up:

I hoped Sunday would be better: I had planned to get together with some other local birders to look for wintering sparrows off the La Chua Trail on Paynes Prairie. The rain had passed, and the sky was bright and cloudless. While waiting in the parking lot for the others to arrive, I saw large feeding flocks of Palm Warblers, and watched several Northern Flickers flying from tree to tree. Near the trailhead, we immediately spotted about half a dozen sparrows darting through the brush: Savannah Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows (the first of the season for me), and a Vesper Sparrow. Here's an immature White-crowned Sparrow:

Things were looking promising.. until a cold, gusty wind abruptly set it, sending all the small birds diving for cover. During the rest of our walk, we saw only a few Savannah Sparrows and Eastern Phoebes. As a consolation prize, though, we did get some good looks at raptors: a pair of Northern Harriers, and a pair of American Kestrels, as well as Red-tailed and Cooper's Hawks. We also got a good look at several wild hogs and missed—apparently, by only a minute—seeing a herd of wild bison that passing hikers kept telling us about.

Another local birder had just scored 10 sparrow species at La Chua last week, and it was clear that we weren't going to get even close to this.

But a weekend of bad birding is better than a weekend with no birding. And the bad days make the good days even better.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bird Therapy

Common but cute: A Carolina Wren at Bolen Bluff

Last week was insanely busy, so when the weekend rolled around, I didn't feel like wandering too far afield. This wasn't a time for birding adventure, but for birding therapy. All I wanted was to be out of doors with nothing but the sound of songs and flapping wings around me.

First thing Saturday morning, I dropped by Powers Park. I got there before all the boaters did, and got to watch a Belted Kingfisher diving for fish in the shallow water off the boat ramp. A Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and Tricolored Heron were perched simultaneously on the fishing dock over Newnans Lake. The Tricolored Heron was quite brave; it didn't flinch even when I stood just 5 feet from it:

It was a good morning for waders. Nearby, several Little Blue Herons were wandering around. I know birds are lighter than their size suggests, but it was still pretty amazing that this one could actually stand on a lily pad:

Today at Bolen Bluff, I saw reasonably good assortment of fall birds. Woodpeckers were everywhere (Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Downey, Pileated, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were all easy to find). The Yellow-rumped Warblers have arrived for the winter (in large numbers), and were flitting high in the trees with Yellow-throated and Black-and-White Warblers. My other good birds of the morning were a cuckoo (I couldn't tell what kind, as it was a distance away) and Hermit Thrush.

Bolen Bluff is known for its assortment of mammals as well as birds; a couple of groups of wild horses, as well as several deer, were also on the trail:

It was a gorgeous morning. Nothing really special bird-wise, but a nice reminder of the pleasure of escaping from the crowd once in a while.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Rare Migrant, and Why I Voted for That One

Biden time until tomorrow!

I have made a point of keeping this site non-political, but here's a sighting from yesterday afternoon at the University of  Florida campus I must share: a rare migrant from the Delaware, the Scranton Warbler, known for its rich and varied vocalizations. It, and other birds it travels with, have been seen frequently in Florida as of late. Many think this is because of the increasingly welcoming environmental conditions for them here.

I bring this up because
My Friend from up the coast has thrown his lot in with the other guy. Why, he asks good naturedly (the only way he ever asks stuff) would you vote for someone who wants to RAISE YOUR TAXES??

Two reasons: First: for almost all of us, HE WON'T. If you make under 250 grand a year (which I'm guessing My Friend does), you'll be getting a TAX CUT, not a raise. And if you're thinking (like Joe the Plumber) "what if I make a miillion bucks with my book deal and country music album, why should I pay taxes on that?" Consider this: both Colin Powell and Warren Buffett (whom doubtlessly make more than 250 grand) have both crossed party lines to endorse Obama. Both do so knowing they'd pay a bit more in taxes under him. These guys are both civic-minded and financially savvy--they wouldn't be doing this unless it was in their best interest, and the interest of America as a whole.

Second, consider this: Taxes pay for essential goods, such as roads, schools, parks (where birds are!), and the military. As Oliver Wendell Holmes (no commie) once said, "I like taxes. They pay for civilization." I share his sentiment: I don't mind part of my tiny salary going towards the common good. What I do mind is having huge portions of it hacked off and used to cover tax breaks for American companies that ship our jobs overseas, and for a pointless war in Iraq.

Another reason I'm voting for That One: Health care. One reason I moved across the country and away from my husband (who I haven't seen since August, and won't see again until Christmas) is because of this. His job doesn't offer any. So he got an individual policy that costs about $500 a month for the two of us (and no,, neither of us has any chronic illnesses) .And my husband's job is temporary, and the only job opportunities I had back home didn't include health coverage either. So I shlepped my ass out here to the swamp in part so I can get--ooh!--a year's worth of insurance that could potentially cover him as well as me, if, god forbid, his job ends sooner than they promised.

Under McCain's plan, my health benefits will be taxed, and it will no longer be advantageous for companies to offer them. And under his plan, there will be no guarantee that one can buy insurance affordably on the private market: companies will still have the right to turn people down for pre-existing conditions. My healthy, then 30-something brother-in-law was turned down for health insurance because he had asthma as a kid. He's now covered under my sister's insurance. What if that goes away?

Under Obama's plan, companies won't be penalized for offering health benefits, and it will be easier for freelancing individuals like my BIL to buy their own. What's not to like?

And here's another reason to vote for That One:

And no, he's not a terrorist, socialist, or baby killer. For the facts, check
here and here.

I could go on forever, but I'll finish off with a personal reason: the John McCain who's running this year isn't the man I respected as a member of the loyal opposition four years ago. I'm effing sick of being told by him, Sarah, and their surrogates I'm not a Real American. As anyone who reads this regularly has probably guessed, I'm (1) nonwhite, (2) grew up in Los Angeles, land of the weird (and darned proud of it), and (3) one of those pointy-headed elite college professors (and darned proud of that too; I worked my ass off to get where I am.). John and Sarah would have you think people like me are lazy decadent leeches ruining it for the rest of you. Well, guess what?? I'm a proud third-generation American; my father was an Air Force officer. I vote and pay taxes. I do volunteer work. I work 60 hours a week as teacher and researcher, and pull in less in a year than Joe the Plumber. Seriously. E-mail me offline and I'll tell you what I'm making. I don't get paid a penny of overtime for all the late-night and weekend work I do, but if, God forbid, I call in sick, it IS deducted from my paycheck. Joe the Plumber would cry like a proverbial girl if he had to do my job. Don't tell me I don't get it. I do.

And I'm terrified that the environment of hatred and fear that they've stoked against people like me will blossom should they be elected.

So get out there and vote! And vote for my guy.... or I'll slap yo' momma!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eye on the Sparrow

Don't have a cow: The non-birding scene at Hague Dairy

Hague Dairy is one of the big local birding hotspots, but until now, I haven't been there. The prospect seemed both intimidating and unpleasant: it's a bit a a drive from my place, in an out-of-the-way rural area outside Gainesville, and it's not open to the public in a user-friendly way—it's not a park, but an actual working dairy (actually, a laboratory dairy run by the University of Florida)—so while visitors may enter the and sign in for permission to wander around, there are no signs to show you where you are or where the interesting stuff is. The official story there is the cattle ARE the interesting stuff.

So I was happy to tag along with Alachua Audubon's fieldtrip to dairy—most of the people who attended knew the area well and were happy to show me where the interesting stuff was.

One of the places birders like there is also one of the most repulsive: a massive dungheap and a holding pool filled with...well, once you smell it, you'll know. But birds don't find this problematic: a large flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds and American Crows were pecking happily around on top of the tall heap of you-know-what, and in that regrettable holding pond, we spotted a lone Least Sandpiper, a Common Snipe, and a big flock of White Ibises, looking conspicuously clean considering their surroundings. Here's one of them.

Further along, we reached a more pleasant area, filled with the usual moss-draped oaks and shrubs. There, we found a Prairie Warbler, a Yellow-throated Warbler, and a Black-and-White Warbler. Along a nearby fence were numerous Eastern Bluebirds and Palm Warblers, both members of the brownish Western population, and of brighter yellow Eastern population. I also got a Chipping Sparrow, a species I had seen back home in California, but not often:

I also had the opportunity to be utterly confused by the birds everyone else was identifying as Yellow-rumped Warblers and Savannah Sparrows: I had seen both birds a million times back home, but these?! Then I remembered that the Eastern race of Yellow-rumpeds iaka (Myrtle Warbler) is different from the Western (aka Audubon's Warbler) in a few ways: I knew how they differed in the spring, but not in the fall. Now I know.

Today at Bolen Bluff, on the prairie, I had another sparrow: I'm pretty sure it's not a Savannah, or a Song Sparrow (the two common species I'm really familiar with—I suck with sparrows)—but I'm not sure what is is. Suggestions welcome!

Fall is shifting slowly, but surely into winter. Here's my chance to finally get up to speed on sparrows. Oh crap!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dispatch from the Gator Nation

Oh no, not one of these things again!

No school is more deeply, obsessively into its mascot than the University of Florida. There's a late-night bus service called Later Gator. The webpage that tracks buses to and from campus is called Gator Locator. The university's day care center is called Baby Gator. The secure, online system faculty members use to submit grades every semester is called—wait for it—Grade-A-Gator. I'm not making this up.

And yet, it was still surprising to find that there are, indeed, real alligators slithering their way around the town's periphery in large numbers. After a morning of birding my favorite weekend spots (Palm Point and Powers Park), I dropped by
La Chua Trail, on the north end of Paynes Prairie, to look for any winter sparrows that may have started wandering in. I got a few Song Sparrows, several Palm Warblers, and an enticing little sparrow-like bird I couldn't ID. There was also a female Northern Harrier, and a nice assortment of waders. But the most noticeably numerous creatures there were the gators.

There were really big guys, like the one above, as well as oddly proportioned babies:

In Alachua Sink, about a dozen of them were basking on a mudflat. Here are a few of them:

All along the trail, there are big, ominous signs warning people to keep a safe distance from the gators, and to be sure to be off the trail by dusk, when the gators start to feed. IF IT MOVES IT"S FOOD! one of them practically screamed. Oddly, the local birds (all of whom seemed to be moving) didn't seem terribly concerned: the gators on the mudflat were surrounded by a large flock of Least Sandpipers foraging calmly away; and everywhere else on the trail, Little Blue Herons, Common Moorhens, and White Ibises were resting or hunting only feet away from basking gators. The Cattle Egrets below are clearly not worried about getting eaten:

There was also a large variety of butterflies on the trail, which made me realize I should get a guidebook and learn more about them. This was one I hadn't seen before:

As I walked back to the trailhead, a couple with several young children passed and asked where the alligators were. I told them to it wasn't very far, and they wouldn't have to look very hard. And I was out of there long before sunset.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Snapshots from Home

I'm still on the e-mail list for Orange County Birding (that's Orange County, California, not Florida), and apparently, fall migration out there has been just as lively as it's been here. Yesterday, Glenn went to Peters Canyon Regional Park in search of the Bald Eagle that's been on everyone's To See list as of late—he missed it by about 10 minutes (as he learned from a photographer who had just been shooting it), but he did get one of his long-time grail birds: a Cactus Wren. More precisely, TWO Cactus Wrens, both of whom were happy to pose cooperatively for him.

This is a bird I've never seen myself, and a new bird for Glenn. Thus, it's an even better treat than a Bald Eagle.

This, and all the other cool sightings back there (Black-billed Cuckoo?! Holy freaking crap!) were starting to make me homesick. I miss the marsh at San Joaquin. And poking through the (mosquito- and water-moccasin-free) brush at Huntington Central Park, looking for wayward migrants. And comparing sightings with the other birders who frequent these areas.

But...if I were there, I wouldn't be getting all the good stuff here. Like the pelagics that hang out at Newnans Lake after big storms. And the companionship of a friendly and fantastically knowledgeable birding community. And treats such the 12 (that's right, TWELVE!) warblers I got this morning at Palm Point and Powers Park—and those were just the ones we could ID definitively. I wouldn't have missed this for the world.

When I was a kid, I imagined that by the year 2000, we'd all travel either by jet packs (for short commutes), or by teleportation, à la Star Trek (for longer distances). Pretty much every other kid I knew believed this as well, and our teachers and parents did nothing to disabuse us of this idea. Maybe they too thought we'd be able to pull it off.

And if we had, I'd be able to bird the Gainesville hot spot of my choice from sunrise until, say 11; hop into a wormhole shooting me directly to Bolsa Chica or Huntington Central, where I'd bird with Glenn from 8 (Pacific Time) to noon, have a nice lunch, then pop back to Gainesville in time for a shower and a few light errands before dinner. Or maybe even some sunset birding! How cool would that be?

But NOOO..instead, we' ve squandered our considerable energy and creativity on [insert name of your least favorite military expedition/public works project/time-wasting pop culture obsession here].

So my dream day of bicoastal migrant chasing probably won't happen in my lifetime. Drat.

Life can be fun, but sometimes, it's just not fair.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Just Another Weekend of Interesting Birds

I'm not proud of this photo. But it's one of the only semi-respectable bird shots I got this weekend, despite seeing a pleasant assortment of birds, and getting three lifers. (Oh yes, and the photo is of a Barred Owl, trying in vain to get some peace and quiet at O'Leno State Park this morning, as our Alachua Audubon field trip group powered through in search of fall migrants.)

I've been in the throes of warbler lust since moving out here. My one consolation for being away from my home and family has been birds, especially all those amazing East Coast warblers. Every other birder here may be burnt out on the steady parade of Black-and-white and Yellow-throated Warblers and American Redstarts, but I still think they're pretty cool. And the rarer migrants are even cooler. And I was determined to get every single one of them.

Still, I have to remind myself, as I did back in California, not to allow myself to take common birds for granted. This morning at O'Leno, we were looking into some bushes and someone spotted some movement. I ID'ed its source, and said it was "just a Cardinal".

"You wouldn't be saying that if you'd never seen a Cardinal," one of the other birders scolded.

And she was right. Two months ago, a Northern Cardinal would have been an exotic treat (in both senses of the word--the one I actually did see a few times in SoCal was, indeed, an escapee.)

So I spent my weekend with my bins around my neck, relishing every bird out there. I went and bought a bird bath, which I hope will attract more visitors to The Exercise Yard. And I got three new birds—exciting to me, but business as usual for everyone else out there: a Veery, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler. (The latter was the only bird that got our group leader excited this morning, since it's the only one of these that's not a totally predictable migrant--but I was happy with all of them.)

Fall migration may be winding down, but I want to squeeze every bird out of it that I can.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fill It, and They Will Come


My apartment is surrounded by large, birdy trees and has its own tiny courtyard, so one of the first things I did after settling in was invest in a bird feeder. After some serious browsing at Wild Birds Unlimited, I settled on a cheap but sturdy squirrel-proof model, filled it with a black sunflower seed mix that looks tastier than a lot of trail mix I've eaten, and waited.

And waited.

After two weeks, I figured something must be wrong. I'd seen birds there twice--a single House Finch, and a Tufted Titmouse—but nobody seemed to be coming there regularly. The owner of Wild Birds Unlimited told me that small birds tend to avoid enclosed courtyards, since such places are often just big snack bowls for accipiters. But—he said—it wasn't a lost cause: create a welcoming and protective enough environment, and the birds would come. Other birders suggested that I put in some plants for the birds to perch on and hide in, or put in a bird bath.

I haven't had time to follow up on these suggestions, but his week, I started noticing the level of seed dropping visibly every day--but I never saw anyone at the feeder. Whatever was taking the seed was doing so only while I was at work.

And this afternoon, I came home from work, still dripping from one of Gainesville's habitually random thunderstorms (I've come to the conclusion that "50% chance of rain today" in Gainesville-speak translates into normal English as "It's raining buckets right now!"). As I approached my unit, I saw something shoot into the air from out of my courtyard—a Carolina Chickadee!

I crept into the courtyard as quietly as I could. The unoccupied feeder was still swinging from its hook. And another Chickadee swooped in just as I put my key in the door.

For the next hour or so, I watched in delight as a constant parade of Chickadees and Tufted Titmice—and even a female Northern Cardinal—swarmed the feeder.

If this photo makes you think my courtyard looks like the exercise yard of a maximum-security prison, you'd be right—I do plan on getting some tasteful native vegetation (and yes, maybe a bird bath) in there soon. But for now, I'm happy that my new place is now officially suitable for visitors.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bird Hard

Not birding makes one crabby: A Ghost Crab near Fort Matanzas National Monument

Sometimes, I worry that I spend too much time thinking about birds. When I walk across campus to my classes in the morning, I keep my ears open for odd chips and chirps, and sometimes risk being late because I can't help stopping and staring into the trees looking for their source. This, no doubt, makes me look like a total idiot to both my students and colleagues.

This weekend reassured me that I'm not the only person on the planet with birds on the brain 24/7. But it also made me realize that I am, indeed, a complete idiot. There are birders out there who are freakishly good. And there are lots of them.

The cause of my angst was a weekend in St. Augustine, for the fall meeting of the Florida Ornithological Society. This is not the sort of thing I would think of attending by myself, but a couple of my Gainesville birding buddies (one of whom is one the board), invited me to join them for the weekend. They're both fun people and awesome birders, so I was happy to hitch a ride with them, crash in a cheap but comfy motel with them, and spend the weekend talking birds.

We arrived on Friday night, hitched up with another group of birders attending the FOS meeting, and ended up at a surprisingly nice place for an early dinner: a seafood restaurant overlooking the water. We got an outdoor table right at the water's edge, and had surprisingly good food while watching Roseate Spoonbills and Ospreys (among other things) flying over the water. One of the guys had his binoculars with him during dinner, so we were able to ID almost everything we saw as we chowed down on crab cakes, fried alligator, and various interesting salads. We headed back to town (and to the initial "flocking", or social hour, of the FOS conference) just as the sun was setting. Good stuff.

Saturday morning was dedicated to birding field trips. Half of the couple I'd come with was in charge of leading one of the trips, to the inefficiently named Guana Tolomato Matanzas Estuarine Research Reserve. Even the acronym to this place (GTMERR) is a mouthful. But there, we got a Peregrine Falcon, a Black-and-white Warbler, and two bright male Black-throated Blue Warblers, who were bathing in a pond just off the trail from us--a real treat to watch. We also got a white-morph Great Blue Heron, who had been hanging out there for about a week. Still, my favorite sighting of the day was the Roseate Spoonbill flying over the Holiday Inn where the FOS was being held, just as we were standing in the parking lot trying to work out carpool arrangements.

A white morph Great Blue Heron: Note its pink legs

After lots of small talk with other conference attendees on the trip, I realized that over half of them were professional biologists/ornithologists, and the others were hard-core amateurs who'd been birding for decades. And I was an enthusiastic amateur, but still a total idiot.

What made me realize this was the Saturday afternoon program, which involved a "skin quiz": there were actually two quizzes, one for advanced birders, and one for beginning/intermediate birders. Both involved numbered stuffed birds skins to be identified.

I took one look at the table with the advanced skins on it, and realized I was WAY out of my league. At the gentler beginning/intermediate table, I immediately recognized a female Hooded Merganser and felt rather smart. There was something that looked like a Downey Woodpecker, but its bill seemed a bit big. Aha! Hairy Woodpecker! These actually occur regularly in Florida! So this also made me feel kind of smart.

I also correctly figured out a female Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Purple Swamphen, a bird I had never seen (but someone had mentioned them at dinner the night before for some random reason, so it seemed like a reasonable guess).

The take-home lesson here? Whenever you find yourself having a sunset dinner at a romantic waterside restaurant, be sure to work the words "Purple Swamphen" into the conversation. You never know what it might get you.

Saturday afternoon and evening consisted of various interesting bird-related talks. On Sunday, my friendly hosts and I went out for more birding: early morning was slow, but by lunchtime, we had spotted Blackpolll, Prarie, and Palm Warblers, and had spotted both Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls—both new birds for me.

By Sunday afternoon, my brain was fried. We returned to Gainesville by mid-afternoon. And then I set off by myself to look for birds once more, this time at Loblolly Nature Reserve, where a number of interesting warblers have been spotted as of late.

Of course, none of them chose to make an appearance for me (but the local mosquitos had their usual feast). I did, however, get a Grey Catbird—another lifer—and a pleasant afternoon in a shady, pretty, place.

Just the kind of peace and quiet I need to get through the long, birdless work week ahead.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Colors

Common but cool: A Northern Cardinal at Palm Point.

I got a lot of great fall warblers this weekend, but as my last post shows, my attempts to photograph them have been pretty pathetic. Most of the time, I decided not to even try: they are so delightful to watch, and here for such a short time, I didn't want to take my binoculars off them for a second.

But some of the other local birds were a bit more cooperative, and did allow some nice (or at least, semi-respectable) shots. None them are rare birds here, but they're still novelties for me, and a treat to see.

Back in California, Glenn and I would go down to the San Diego River mouth, just by Sea World, to find and try to photograph the Little Blue Herons, which are rare to nonexistent anywhere else in the state. We always found them, but they were always a way off. Today at Powers Park, I found one standing by the boat ramp, utterly unconcerned by my presence:

A heron we never saw in California was the Tricolored Heron: here, they are apparently common, but until this weekend, I've never gotten a really close look at one. This guy is a bit obscured by foliage, but it's the best shot I have so far. This was taken at Palm Point:

On Saturday, I birded Powers Park and Palm Point with another local birder (yup, I hit the same places on both Saturday and Sunday), and got a number of new butterflies: This one is (I think) a Sleepy Orange:

Neither Florida nor California are known for the standard leaves-turning-red-in-the-fall thing (there are not that many deciduous trees in SoCal, and I was told that there is a bit of color change here, but it doesn't happen until December). But the birds make fall a really colorful season here, for those who care to look for it. And the guys I managed to photograph here aren't even half of it.

Presenting the Worst Photo of a Blackburnian Warbler in the History of the World!

Forrest Gump famously said that life was like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get.

This, of course, is a terrible analogy: boxes of chocolates always come with ingredient lists, some sort of description on the box, and/or those cute little fold-out picture guides telling you which shape corresponds to which filling. Unless you're borderline illiterate (like poor Forest), you'll know exactly what you're going to get.

He should have made his analogy about birding. Now THAT'S maddeningly, yet enticingly, unpredictable. Today's Alachua Audubon field trip to Palm Point was a case in point.

We assembled at nearby Powers Park, mostly because there was adequate parking (the plan was to carpool to Palm Point). I'd never had much luck finding stuff at Powers, and my impression was that local birders didn't think of it as much of a hotspot either: most people I've run into consider it a pretty place to stop by on the way home from Palm Point if they need a restroom or just didn't feel like going home yet.

But when I got there this morning, about 20 minutes before the group was supposed to meet, the normally quiet trees leading down to a boat ramp and boardwalk were noisy with birds: dozens of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice chased each other through the cypresses and clung to tufts of Spanish moss. Within minutes, I spotted a Yellow-throated Warbler and an American Redstart. When the rest of the group arrived, we almost immediately spotted a Tennessee Warbler and a large flock of Chimney Swifts (both lifers for me!) A Yellow-billed Cuckoo sat sedately in a treetop, eating caterpillars.

And it kept getting better. The warblers kept rolling (okay, flying) in: Yellow, Hooded, Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush, Prairie... and best of all, a very bold and pretty Blackburnian Warbler, a relative rarity in this area, and another lifer for me! He/she darted low in a tree by the boardwalk, even hopping briefly onto the boardwalk's handrail (only about 6 feet from us) before flying off. I fumbled with my camera while trying to keep the bird in my sights, but couldn't manage to get a shot.

We were all happy and excited as we moved on to Palm Point: if things were this good at a usually unremarkable spot, things must be rocking really hard at Palm Point, a known migrant trap...

...NOT. Palm Point was strangely quiet. The small number of field trip participants who'd forgotten that we were supposed to meet first at Powers were visibly bummed. And they got even more bummed after we told them what we had just seen.

We hung out at Palm Point for another half hour or so, and managed to find some weird spiders and a Pine Warbler. Then some of us headed back to Powers—and almost immediately saw the Blackburnian again! This time, it was near the ground, hopping between some low bushes and the ground with a group of American Redstarts. I tried to focus my camera and started shooting madly as it flitted about. Only two of the shots actually had the Blackburnian in the frame, and they both sucked. Now I know why photographers hate shooting warblers so much.

And so do you.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Every Bird Counts

A White Ibis at the idyllic Home Depot Pond.

Every September, two momentous events hit Gainesville on the same day: the infamous Florida-Tennessee hate match , and the county-wide Fall Migration Count. Of course, I completely ignored the former and got completely sucked into the latter.

I'd never done a bird count before; back in OC, I had the impression that the only people who did these were the Really Good Birders, and that my participation would be more of a hindrance than a help. But out here, the birding community is small and tight, and it's almost impossible to bird alone: if you hit any hotspot wearing binoculars, you will meet people, and these people will no doubt know every other local birder you've ever run into.

And if you met any of these people two weeks ago, you'd get drafted onto one of the count teams. And it was made clear that my utter ignorance about local bird life was no excuse not to participate.

Our team of 8 birders started out at 6:30 am. At Kanapaha Prairie, a private tract of farmland and and homes, we watched flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Wood Storks fly overhead as the sun rose, and caught a few Eastern Meadowlarks hopping around on fence posts.

At Chapman Pond, a pretty little holding basin owned by the local utility company, we saw Tricolored Herons, Snowy Egrets, Common Moorhens, and both White and Glossy Ibises. The Glossies were new birds for me, but they look so much like White-faced Ibises, they really seemed familiar. (This shot's for you, Corey!)

During the drive to our next spot, Kanapaha Botanical Garden, we looked for birds from the car. This netted me another lifer, a White-winged Dove. The botanical garden was gorgeous—filled with lots of twisty little stone-paved trails leading to romantic little gazebos and cozy benches tucked beside ponds and waterfalls. An utterly perfect place for a first kiss—or any kiss, for that matter.

Alas, it wasn't that great for birds. The goal of the count was to track fall migrants, but we didn't get very many. After a couple of hours of getting nothing more interesting than a single Ovenbird and handful of American Redstarts, we took a much-needed lunch break.

Our afternoon went much like our morning—great conversation and scenery, but not a lot of birds. But it was fun for me to see some new birding spots I'd only heard about. One was yet another little pond, stuck between a freeway overpass and a shopping center. At the evocatively named Home Depot Pond, we saw a huge flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, as well as the most motley assortment of Mallard/Muscovy hybrids ever.

One of our last stops was at Laurel Hill Cemetery, in the nearby town of Archer. I learned that one year, someone doing the count claimed that a ghost had followed her home from the cemetery and assaulted her. Maybe THAT'S why they were trying so hard to recruit new people this year!

Again, we didn't get any warblers other than a couple of Northern Parulas. (On the upside, we didn't encounter any evil spirits either.) But I did get my third lifer of the day, a Red-headed Woodpecker—since it was raining while we were there, I didn't take out my camera, so alas, no photos!

Ironically, while yesterday was a nearly warbler-free day, today the warblers were flitting about in force. At Palm Point, I got Ovenbirds, a female Hooded Warbler (another lifer for me), a Yellow and Yellow-throated Warbler, several American Redstarts, a Northern Parula, and a couple of Black-and-White Warblers:

I have no idea which way his head is facing, either.

I ran into another birder there (who, of course, did the count yesterday with another team, whose team members I also knew); he managed to see a Blue-winged Warbler, which I unfortunately missed. Maybe next time!

The other fun birds I got today were a group of very active Pileated Woodpeckers, drumming away loudly in the treetops:

Someone once said that character is what you do when no one is looking. And perhaps the character of a place is the number of birds out when nobody is counting.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

One Month Later

Exactly one month ago today, I got up at 4:30 a.m., gulped down a cup of coffee and a day-old piece of Vietnamese cassava cake, and headed to LAX and two miserable flights that would lead me from my home and family in Southern California to my new job in Florida.

And today found me headed west out of Gainesville with a group of friendly and talented local birders to Cedar Key, a charming fishing village and renown local birding spot. We were on our way to a boat tour of the surrounding waters to look for shorebirds.

I was hoping that Hurricane Ike would bring in some interesting pelagics, just as tropical storm Fay did a few weeks back. Instead, Ike just raised the water levels so high that shore-dwelling peeps resorted to perching in the few bushes that remained above water level.

The funny thing about going on a shorebird trip with a bunch of inland birders is watching how excited they get by birds that I took for granted back in California, such as Marbled Godwits and Willets. In the meantime, I was getting quite excited by birds they all found quite ordinary, such as Tricolored Herons and American Oystercatchers (a lifer for me). But everyone WAS understandably surprised to see over 100 American Oystercatchers hanging out on a sandbar with a flock of Willets and various plovers:

Here's a closer shot of some of the Oystercatchers:

My favorite part of the boat tour was a stop by an island where a large flock of Magnificent Frigatebirds was roosting. These are great birds to watch. There is something vaguely sinister about the way they look (and the fact that they are kleptoparasitic feeders only adds to their aura of evil)--but that's part of the fun of watching them.

And here are some more of them.

After the boat trip, the group I had carpooled out with decided to try birding other parts of the Key, such as the cemetery—supposedly a good spot for migrating warblers. We didn't get any warblers, but we did get both Grey and Eastern Kingbirds, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and two Great Horned Owls, sitting practically back to back to each other. This photo shows only one of them, but the other wasn't far behind him:

On the way home, we were treated to the sight of several strikingly brilliant rainbows--so striking that several drivers besides us pulled off the side of the road to either gawk or take pictures. This shot only captures a fraction of the whole scene: from where we were, we could see the entire arc of one rainbow, with a second echoed faintly nearby:

I knew this could only be an omen of good fortune, But I returned home to an aggressively squirting leak under my bathroom sink, which had caused the entire bathroom to flood. The maintenance guy was out within half an hour. I'll be without hot water in the bathroom for the night, but at least the damage was contained. Maybe that's all the good luck I need.