California Thrasher

California Thrasher

California Thrasher

A songbird in the same family as the mockingbird, the California Thrasher has an impressive repertoire of melodies.  Not as boisterous or prevalent as the mockingbird, Toxostoma redivivum can be difficult to find.  This species is only found in California and Baja California, they prefer chaparral habitat.

 

One spring Saturday we carved out time to search for a California Thrasher.  We know a trail nearby where their melodious song can be heard every spring when they’re courting; and although we almost never see them, we can hear them.   Shy birds and usually hidden in brush, they are known to be permanent residents in their territory.

 

They primarily eat insects and berries, and use that long, sickle-shaped bill to flip leaf litter around and dig in the soil.  More info here.

 

California Thrasher

California Thrasher singing

That day we had a great hike and saw many birds, but the Thrasher never showed.  Then the next day, as we sat on the deck relaxing, who shows up but the California Thrasher.  In over ten years we had never seen or heard him on our property.  But this particular day he stopped by, caught our attention, stayed perched while the binoculars came out, and then flew away.

 

If I didn’t know better, I might have taken this as a sign to never leave my chair.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

The Farmer and His Dog

Kangaroo Island, Aus., farmer's dog

Kangaroo Island, Aus., farmer’s dog

We were visiting Kangaroo Island, a small island south of the Australian continent.  On the last day of our month-long trip, we still had not found a koala.

 

A beach ranger had told us about a small, remote road with a gum tree flood plain.  Here, he said, we had a good chance of seeing koalas.  We found the road and the flood plain; it was devoid of people, buildings, or structures of any kind.  So we planted ourselves in this small grove, determined to find the koala before we headed back home.

 

We had been there about an hour, loaded down with optics, and had methodically scanned every single gum tree in the area.  No koalas.

 

The Farmer and the Dog, Kangaroo Isl., Aus.

The Farmer and the Dog, Kangaroo Isl., Aus.

Then a farmer drove down a nearby private lane, pulled his truck alongside us.  There was no doubt we were trespassing on his land.   He was hauling a large roll of hay, and atop that roll was his ever-so-happy dog.  With one dark, leathery arm resting out the window, he looked at our binoculars and asked, “Did you see the pair of cockatoos?”

 

Pleasantly relieved that he was okay with us being on his property, we cheerfully replied that yes, we had seen the pair.  We three talked about this pair of cockatoos for a few minutes, admiring them.

 

Then I told him we had been looking for koalas for an hour, but still had not found any.  He languidly leaned his head out the truck window, looked up, and said, “There’s one.  There’s another.”

Koala, iStock.com

Koala, iStock.com

 

“What??”

 

Turns out we had been looking for the koalas 20 feet up, instead of a hundred feet up, high, high, into the canopy.  We had also expected them to be eating or moving about, not just snoozing.  They sleep up to 20 hours a day, nestled deep in the tree.

 

What a great break for us — we had found the grove, the farmer was not angry with us, in fact wanted to help us, he showed us what to look for, and we found several more after he left.  It reminded me to never underestimate the simple kindness of giving a few minutes to a stranger.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander, except where noted

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus.

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus.

McCovey Cove

ATandT Park, San Francisco, Calif.

ATandT Park, San Francisco, Calif.

This cove is part of the San Francisco Bay, it is directly adjacent to AT&T Park, Home of the San Francisco Giants.  All the boaters in this cove are devoted Giants fans waiting for a home run to come their way.

 

Every trip to AT&T Park is a fun-filled baseball adventure.  But there have only been 68 “splash hits” to land in the Cove since the Park opened in 2000.  Just in case you haven’t kept track of this, there is an electronic counter near the scoreboard that gives you that statistic. To see who the 68 home run hitters are, click here.

 

A sunny summer afternoon in the ballpark – an American classic.  Fans waiting for home runs in the Bay — that’s a Giants classic.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Crested Guan

Costa Rica

Crested Guan, Costa Rica

A large arboreal gamebird, the Crested Guan is a curious figure up in the Costa Rican forest canopy.  So big, and yet rooting around in the treetops rather than on the ground.  They feed on fruit and vegetation.

 

Penelope purpurascens are turkey-like with a small head, large body, and long tail.  You always know they’re around because they’re very vocal, and travel in groups of 6-12.  Also, being so big and heavy (over 3 pounds or 1750 g), they make a lot of noise rustling among the forest leaves and branches.  More info here.

Crested Guans, Costa Rica

Crested Guans, Costa Rica

 

Big , noisy birds with bright red features are a favorite for folks who can’t see too well.  But even for those of us with binoculars, their dapper crest, red eye, and bright scarlet throat wattle are always a welcomed sight

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

People of the Corn

Field Corn, Illinois

Field Corn, Illinois

We all know of places in the world where an agricultural crop is a way of life.  In the central United States lies the Corn Belt, and at this time of year anyone living there or even passing through is surrounded by corn.

 

The states that produce 62% of United States corn are:  Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.  Other Corn Belt producers are:  Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky.  The U.S. produces about 40% of the world’s corn.

 

I grew up in Illinois and Wisconsin.  My first real job was in the cornfields.  My job title:  detassler.  Before I turned 16 I spent 6-8 weeks every summer walking down one corn row and up another, snapping the tassles off the top of the stalk, preparing the corn for pollination.  As kids when our goldfish or dog died, guess where they were buried?  I learned to drive in those same fields, all my sisters did.  In the winter the corn had been tilled under and the ground, frozen; so we had one endless practice parking lot right outside our door.  In college I was a member of the parachute club and where do you think we landed?

Illinois Corn Girls (from L: Athena, Jet, 2 of Jet's sisters)

Illinois Corn Girls (from L Athena, Jet, Jet’s sisters Sally and Nan)

 

Ask anyone who has lived in these states, and they will have a corn story or two (or 20) to share.  Talk to anyone who lives there now and they’ll tell you how the crops are doing this summer.  (In Illinois, not good due to floods.)

 

Most of the corn is “field corn.”  It is primarily used for making products (like ethanol and corn-based food), feeding farm animals, and exporting.  Just in Illinois in 2009 alone, 112 billion pounds of corn were hauled out of the fields.  It gets loaded onto barges on the Mississippi River, transported to New Orleans, and then shipped around the world.  It is exported to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico, Canada to name a few.  More info here.

 

Corn Stand, Wisconsin

Corn Stand, Wisconsin

And then there’s the sweet, juicy corn for human consumption.  Available in every grocery store, or roadside from a farmer’s pick-up truck, or at a corn stand for purchase on the honor system.  Whenever I go back to visit, I still swear the Midwest corn is the best in the world.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

Jet and the corn, Illinois

Jet and the corn, Illinois