Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Year: 2008 (page 1 of 10)

The Last Post of 2008

There’s a tradition here at Coyote Mercury that requires me to once again post this picture on the last day of the year.

So long, 2008

So long, 2008

It’s funny how traditions are born. I posted it in 2005 because I wanted to post something. I posted it in 2006 and 2007 because, well, I already had the picture. In 2008, it has now officially become tradition.

2008 was a mostly good year, though losing Daphne made for an awful stretch that still hurts. Certain emptinesses linger as they are wont to do, corners of the house vacant, two dog beds instead of three.

On the upside, though, the Bush reign of error is drawing to a close, I discovered Hornsby Bend, I read more books than I ever have before, and I learned to like oatmeal.

So, happy New Year.

This site will look different tomorrow…

The Book I Read

Actually, it’s books, but if I made it plural, I’d lose the oh-so-clever Talking Heads reference.

As I’ve mentioned before, I never make goals of things I love because then I get obsessive and start to forget to enjoy the thing as the goal becomes the point. Still, I do keep a list of all the books I read each year going back to 1993, mainly so I won’t forget what I read.

I noticed that this year’s list is longer than usual. I counted them up and came to 46, which I suspect is a record for me at least since 1993. I doubt I ever read that many books in the years prior either.

A friend of mine cleared the impressive 50 barrier as of Christmas Eve, and my Dad cleared 100. Since I came so close, I must admit a part of me (the part that likes nice round numbers) wants to join my goal-setting fellow readers and make a goal of topping 50 in 2009, but then I realize that reading this many books has come at a price: I wrote less than I have in years. I’m only about 10 pages into a novel that I’d rather be 100 into. I also barely blogged for six months, and I am a year behind on my National Geographics.

Nothing is free, I suppose.

I think, now, that I will set a reading goal. Read less and write more. Find the balance.

So, for what it’s worth, here are the books I read in 2008, listed in the order in which I finished them:

  1. Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie
  2. Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage – Sherry Sontag & Christopher Drew
  3. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  4. Double Cross – James Patterson
  5. Day (formerly The Accident) – Elie Wiesel
  6. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hollows – JK Rowling
  7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  8. Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling
  9. Indian Killer – Sherman Alexie
  10. Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling
  11. Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas – Elaine Pagels
  12. Classic Haiku: The Greatest Japanese Poetry from Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki & Their Followers – Tom Lowenstein (ed.)
  13. The Invention of Morel and Other Stories from La Trama Celeste – Adolfo Bioy Casares
  14. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – TS Eliot
  15. The Waste Land and Other Poems – TS Eliot
  16. The Adventures of a Photographer in La Plata – Adolfo Bioy Casares
  17. Rumble Fish – SE Hinton
  18. Selected Stories – Adolfo Bioy Casares
  19. The Intellectual Devotional – David Kidder & Noah Oppenheim (started in 2007)
  20. 100 Days in Photographs – Nick Yapp
  21. The Columbia History of the World – Johan Garraty & Peter Gay (eds.)
  22. Austin: Then & Now – William Dylan Powell
  23. The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible – Sally Roth
  24. The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature – Jonathan Rosen
  25. The Mockingbird – Robin W Doughty
  26. The Cardinal – June Osborne
  27. Audubon’s Birds of America – John James Audubon
  28. The Purple Martin – Robin Doughty & Rob Fergus
  29. The Great Blue Heron – Hayward Allen
  30. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird – June Osborne
  31. The American Robin – Roland Wauer
  32. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  33. Kingbird Highway: The Story of a Natural Obsession that Got a Little out of Hand – Ken Kaufman
  34. Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding and Photographing – Dan True
  35. Crazy Loco – David Rice
  36. Barack – Jonah Winter (okay, I admit, it’s a children’s book, but it was cool)
  37. Rumble Fish – SE Hinton (yes, I read it twice)
  38. Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama
  39. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  40. The Audacity of Hope – Barack Obama
  41. Darkly Dreaming Dexter – Jeff Lindsay
  42. Dearly Devoted Dexter – Jeff Lindsay
  43. Dexter in the Dark – Jeff Lindsay
  44. The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English – Mark Abley
  45. Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth – David Browne
  46. The Holy Bible – King James Version (yes, King James; yes, the whole thing)

You can see the period last summer when I grabbed all the books from the ornithology section of my branch library.

It’s an interesting list, with some really deep and thick tomes mixed with some light and quick reads. There were some real winners this year as well. My top five six:

  • Kingbird Highway
  • Life of the Skies
  • Moby Dick
  • The Invention of Morel and Other Stories from La Trama Celeste
  • The Bible
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence

What’s the best book you read this year?

Project FeederWatch Week 7

I was very curious about what my Project FeederWatch count would reveal for week 7 because of the hawk I saw sitting in the tree above the feeder on Christmas morning. It was an accipiter, either a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk. The two are very similar in appearance, though the Cooper’s is slightly larger. This one looked a little bigger than a Blue Jay, so I’d bet on Sharp-shinned if I was forced to make a call.

He had some unlucky something in his talons, and he flew off when he saw the dogs. He flew to a neighbor’s tree, prompting an outcry from some Blue Jays that seemed to chase him off. I didn’t see another sparrow in my yard until yesterday, and I wondered which birds if any would show up for my Sat/Sun counts.

As it turned out, most of the usual suspects came by including a second chickadee so my chickadee count is now up to two. A Mourning Dove also stopped by on Saturday evening so I did get to add a new bird to my count list. Only one sparrow, though, and not a single House Sparrow. I guess the sparrows also know that accipiters are sometimes known as sparrowhawks.

I haven’t seen him back either, which is good. I love birds of prey as much as the next person, but I really don’t want my feeders to become a songbird buffet for the local hawks.

And now, drum roll please, the count:

  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Carolina Chickadee (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (3)
  • White-winged Dove (6)
  • Blue Jay (2)
  • Chipping Sparrow (1)
  • Mourning Dove (1)
  • Northern Mockingbird (1)

Project FeederWatch Week 6

Week 6 of Project FeederWatch began warm, overcast and muggy. A gloomy day good for staying in, which is likely what the birds thought since I only saw 2 sparrows, a cardinal and a dove.

I was getting bored until evening when I saw a mockingbird check out the suet feeder. I hadn’t seen a mocker in a few weeks and never one at the suet feeder. He inspected it for a while and then seemed to be working out how to get the suet. He finally figured it out, though, and now I wonder if he will claim it as his considering how territorial they can be.

An Arctic front blew in Sunday morning and that brought the birds out. After filling the feeders, a cardinal was already on the platform feeder before I reached the door. A female cardinal also came by, giving me 2 cardinals in my weekly count for the first time. I pulled out the binoculars to watch them and saw that the male seemed to be standing on both feet so I don’t know if this is a new Mr. Cardinal or if the crippled one is now back to fighting form.

The mockingbird was back on Sunday working the suet feeder, and I saw a couple of wrens digging around in the piles of leaves by the fence posts.

Sunday turned into a great day for watching the feeder birds from inside the house.

Here’s the official count:

  • Chipping Sparrow (5)
  • House Sparrow (5)
  • White-winged Dove (6)
  • Northern Mockingbird (1)
  • Northern Cardinal (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (3)
  • Carolina Chickadee (1)

I’ve also added a count to the left sidebar that shows all the birds I’ve counted during Project FeederWatch and the greatest number of individuals counted at one time. I’ll try to keep that updated through April.

Friday Cat Blogging: A Reflective Moment

Simon stares at nothing

Simon stares at nothing

Simon ponders the vastness of it all, the mysteries of infinity, and the unfathomable distance between meals.

Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup

I’ve heard it said that you should write what you know. I think it’s just as useful to write what you want to learn. That’s part of why I enjoy writing about my birding experiences.

The day before Thanksgiving I walked to the pond down the street to see what kinds of ducks were around. Mostly Gadwalls and some Northern Shovelers. I saw a Lesser Scaup too, or so I thought. Had I looked closer I would have seen that it wasn’t a Scaup, but rather something new to me.

I posted some pictures and Ted commented and pointed out the error I had made. I consulted my Sibley guide and found that while Lesser Scaup and Ring-necks are similar, there are differences such as the white ring on the Ring-neck’s bill and the white spur on his side. Also the scaup has a grey back while the Ring-neck’s back is black.

I went back and compared pictures from a few weeks ago with a Lesser Scaup picture from last year and saw the difference.

Since I had never seen a Ring-necked Duck before (at least while knowing what it was) I walked back down today to see if there were any still there.

It’s a cold day today, but there were actually more ducks than usual. I didn’t count, but I suspect there were 20 or so Gadwalls and at least 10 Ring-necked Ducks.

Ring-necked Ducks in the pond down the street

Ring-necked Ducks in the pond down the street

I watched for awhile and tried a few pictures, but it was dark and so I had trouble getting a stable shot. Still, this one was passable and now that I know the field marks well enough to distinguish Ring-necks from Scaup, I’m confident in adding this new bird to my life list.

And then there’s the beauty of writing what you want to learn. I think I’ve learned a good bit about birds just from writing about what I’m seeing and experiencing in the field. Or in my backyard as the case may be. But, it’s easy to get overconfident and not notice what should be obvious (ie: that wasn’t a Lesser Scaup) and so the writing and posting what I think I know helps me nail down what I do know and still need to learn. I still have a lot to learn about ducks, for instance, which I’m discovering are kind of tricky.

Soon, the cold started to get to me and it was time to head home and feed the pups, but as I was going I noticed a buck nibbling the grass on the far side of the pond.

A White-tailed Deer checks me out

A White-tailed Deer checks me out

Amazing what else you can see when going out to look for birds. Of course, seeing deer around here isn’t that amazing. Had I been awake the other night I would have seen the one that came to our front porch to eat our plants.

For more bird blogging, be sure to check out I and the Bird #90.

Project FeederWatch Week 5

This was a busy weekend and so I only got to watch the feeders for a few minutes at a stretch, mostly as I was passing by the windows.

If squirrels were birds, I’d have a pretty high count this time, but since they’re not, I didn’t see very many and nothing unusual.

The count for Week 5:

  • Carolina Wren (1)
  • Carolina Chickadee (1)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (1)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • White-winged Dove (1)
  • Northern Cardinal (1)
  • House Finch (2)
  • House Sparrow (3)
  • Chipping Sparrow (4)

The only noteworthy thing is that I finally saw the female cardinal again for the first time in months. She and the crippled Mr. Cardinal were foraging below the platform feeder earlier in the week, but, alas, I did not see her on my count days, the only cardinal then being Mr. Cardinal.

The weather was mostly overcast, warm and humid. A front came through last night so now it’s in the thirties.

I do love Texas weather.

Wide-Angle Joe

Joey watched the new lens

Joey watches the new lens

For my birthday, my parents got me a wide angle lens. Joey was my first subject.

That’s his new soccer ball on the left.

I’d forgotten how much I love shooting wide angle.

Project FeederWatch Week 4

A Black-crested Titmouse

A Black-crested Titmouse

Week 4 of Project FeederWatch brought a new bird into the mix: the Ladder-backed Woodpecker. This is the first one I’ve seen since July when they were fairly regular visitors to the yard.

Mr. Cardinal also returns after 2 weeks. He’s the only one I can identify as an individual, and that’s because of his injured leg. I first saw it back in June. It was twisted behind him at a painful looking angle. I didn’t expect to see him much longer after that, but he keeps coming back. It’s been 6 months now, and he’s hanging in there.

And, now for this week’s count:

  • Chipping Sparrow (3)
  • House Sparrow (20)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Blue Jay (2)
  • White-winged Dove (12)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  • Carolina Chickadee (2)
  • Northern Cardinal (1)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker (1)

That’s the second week in a row that I’ve only counted 3 Chipping Sparrows. I wonder if it’s the same three.

Ducks in Flight

These are Gadwalls circling the little pond down the street.

Ducks in Flight 1

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