No Context For You – April 16th

No, I wasn’t even 10% as happy as I looked, and I didn’t look happy.

It’s been a tough week – let’s hope for a better weekend.

Oh, I’ve got WHAT on my schedule for this weekend?


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Flowers – April 15th

Normally we would all be sweating to get our tax returns (or extensions) filed in the US today – but hey, thanks to that little pandemic thing, we get another 32 days!

So instead, let’s look at what pops out of the ice plant growing along the chain link fence at the edge of our property.

Yes, they really, really are that bright!

They only bloom for a few days around this time of year.

The bees love them – surprisingly to me, the hummingbirds don’t seem to ever touch them.

I figured that before the invention of hummingbird feeders (and, you know, humans) the little buzzbombs would have feasted on something like this!

If so, then they’re doing it in an extremely stealthy fashion.

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Fine Feathered Friends – April 14th

Another new visitor. This one made their presence known first by their call. They’re LOUD and very distinctive. (Listen to the first song recording, credited to “Oklahoma, April 06, 2012 Recorded by Wil Hershberger | Macaulay Library“)

Given the volume, I spent a few days trying to hunt down a larger bird, maybe something the size of a robin or jay, or the California Towhee. No joy.

When I did find them I was delighted – they’re tiny. “Tiny” as in “smaller than the cute little chunky Juncos!” They’re barely bigger than the hummingbirds!

Now that I know what I’m looking for, I’m finding them all over the place. There might not be as many of them as the wrens or the juncos, but there’s at least a dozen or so, maybe double that.

They’re constantly flitting about through the bushes and hedges that separate our neighbors’ yards from ours, along with the juncos and finches and towhees. Those hedges are turning into quite the little aviary.

I’ve also seen them hanging out in the small bushes behind the roses that line the driveway. That was surprising. There’s not that much cover there, but they make the best of it. But at the slightest hint that I’ve seen them and might take a step in their direction – “poof!” There’s a cloud of them heading across the street into the big hedges in the neighbor’s yard over there.

Tiny, loud, with that BIG tail sticking up like a flag or the rudder on a 787 or C-5. Welcome to the aviary!


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Flowers – April 13th

Where was I before I went off on a rant? Flowers or birds? Lizards?


Not from Texas. These are next to the driveway.

The first of the season to pop out – won’t be the last if this year is anything like last year.

No secrets of the universe here, nothing profound. Just a tiny bit of a reminder that beautiful things exist in the world and we need to pay attention to them every now and then, even if it’s just for a minute while spending the day battling the Forces of Evil.

Fight on!

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The Light & The Tunnel

We like the metaphor “the light at the end of the tunnel,” especially these days when the entire freaking world has been going through years of various levels of hell.

Thinking about that tonight, it occurs to me that a problem with that particular metaphor is that we assume we know where the end of the tunnel is.

We don’t.

We see some light and we’ve been in the dark for a long time. So in our need for hope, in our desperate grasping for straws, we assume without data that the end of the proverbial tunnel must be near! Right?

But we don’t know how far it is, how fast we’re going, or even if there might be other side tunnels that we get sidetracked down before we get to exit the tunnel.

And when we start thinking about that, and start thinking about how long we might still have to go before we get out, and that some of us won’t ever make it out but will fall here without ever seeing that light…

But we keep going, even if we’re not particularly happy about it. As Frost said, “The only way out is through.” (I might have quoted that more than just a few times here in the past. It keeps getting more and more true.)

And the only way to make it better in the long run is to get out and then hunt down the bastards that built the tunnel and trapped us in it. And make sure that they never do it again.

How was your day?

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Sixty Years Ago This Minute

Sixty years ago this minute, at 06:07 UTC, 23:07 PST, 02:07 EST, the first human being left the planet.

It was the height of the Cold War and the Space Race was 1% about exploration and 99% about ideology, superiority, and world domination. The Russians had shocked the world by putting the first satellite in orbit in 1957, leaving the Americans in the dust. Everyone knew that the next step would be to put a man into space. (And make no doubt, while today we talk about “crewed” spacecraft and “piloted” spacecraft, in 1961 it was a “manned” spacecraft.)

The Americans had introduced the Mercury 7 astronauts on April 9, 1959, but progress on the launch of the first Mercury astronaut had been troublesome, and public. American rockets blew up on national television.

The Russian space program was cloaked in secrecy. If they had problems, no one knew about it. But when they had success? Yuri Gagarin launched on Vostok 1 for a 108 minute flight, one orbit around the Earth, and became an international star and a name that would go down in human history.

We’ve come a long way. Tonight, ten humans from the US, Russia, and Japan, men and women, black and white, are on the ISS, and it’s been 20+ years of constant habitation.

Happy 60th!!

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Not An Aircraft You See Every Day

Out at the CAF hangar today we were taking delivery of an unusual aircraft.

It’s a Fieseler FI-156D Storch, a German designed WWII aircraft.

This one was partially disassembled for transport to us from San Bernardino County, with the fuselage on one truck, the wings on another, and the propeller, horizontal stabilizer and other parts coming in separately.

It’s a fixer-upper (as many CAF aircraft are) but that’s what we do, and this aircraft will probably be flying again in 2-5 years, depending on our volunteer manpower, workload, and of course, funding.

To be honest , this aircraft is in MUCH better shape than some we’ve gotten. Some are 15-20 year projects, if we’re lucky. Here we at least have an engine and all of the major parts.

A peak inside the floor of the cockpit, showing the foot controls for rudder and brakes.

And the big picture at the firewall, engine mounted to the left, controls and cockpit on the right.

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Grass Lizards

It’s starting to look like a bumper crop year for lizards at the Willett enclave. We have the usual suspects (although I’m starting to get worried again about Doctor Lizardo) – dark fence lizards, tan ones, tree lizards, and what might be an alligator lizard.

One new thing that I have rarely seen are lizards that go out onto the grass. Normally they’re on the sidewalk or porch, possibly in the dirt. When they’re sunning themselves they have a bush or some other kind of protection or hidey hole (like under the van) to duck back under or into in a heartbeat.

In this picture there are two reasonably large “grass lizards” who have been out there for several days. (Click to enlarge the picture and find them!) They’re always out on top of the grass, almost like they’re crowdsurfing on top of the grass blades to keep ventilated and keep their feet from getting too hot, while also maximizing their solar energy absorption. Which is all well and good, but it also would seem to leave themselves very exposed to birds, and a long way from cover if an avian predator cruises by.

Perhaps there’s some finer point of lizard habitats, psychology, and metabolism that I’m not grasping. But watch where you step if you go out on the grass in the afternoon sun!

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Flowers – April 08th

Flowers and birds, all from our yard. It’s spring. Again. And we’re still spending 99.99% of our time in quarantine at home. Again. (The other 0.01% of the time is when I go out to get groceries or pick up the CAF mail at the hangar every other week.)

These are popping up next to the mailbox – some are heartier than others, fighting for space with some sort of decorative desert drought-resistant plant.

The bees seem to love them. I can see why.

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Fine Feathered Friends – April 07th

Last October, a small group of a new type of bird showed up in our back yard.

They’re distinctive looking and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t ever seen them before. We certainly hadn’t seen them at this house in what was at the time about two and a half years.

Cute little baby dinosaurs, they have a black head, a white underbelly, and they tend to be ground feeders.

We had a half-dozen or so of them at first, but soon there were more. They love the shrubs that we and the neighbors each have along our fence lines. And they loved whatever we had on our lawn.

It wasn’t long before we started putting out some bird seed for them. Word must have gotten around, because most of the winter we’ve had more like two dozen of them around.

They hop, they flit, they scurry, and then all of a sudden they simultaneously all bolt to the bushes. (The shadow of a hawk often immediately follows.)

With time I started to get better pictures, although they don’t hang out for long when I go out into the back yard. But with better pictures came an ID in the Cornell Lab Merlin app.

These are Dark-eyed Juncos, a type of sparrow. They apparently have a lot of color variation between different populations, which you can see in looking at these pictures. But the basic “chunky Junco” body, black head, white belly design is consistent. There just may be differences in detail in the grey areas.

When I found out what they are I was told that they’re migratory and won’t stay for long, so I expected them to be gone by now. But the steady food supply may have convinced them to sit tight for a while.

Fine by me! They’re now getting bold enough to come up onto the back patio (okay, seed gets spilled there and they’re voracious) and cute as can be, so they can hop around the back yard as long as they want!

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