Fine Feathered Friends – August 07th

Last Monday I heard the resident front yard mockingbirds making quite a racket. They make very good guards. A racket generally means something’s up, predator wise.

I recognized this guy immediately. I’ve seen him from a distance and knew he was in the neighborhood.

Usually it’s down in the canyon below the house, sitting on top of a power pole. I’m pretty sure its nest is in the top of a pine tree right next to the pole.

Its call is very distinctive (the first one here), and the Cornell Lap Merlin Bird ID app confirmed the pictures – it’s a Cooper’s Hawk.

The two mockingbirds were on the wire above it, sounding the alarm constantly, and occasionally swooping down to take a pass at the hawk, trying to frighten it off. I was amazed that it stuck around for over five minutes, giving me a chance to walk around and take some pictures.

When it finally did take off, the second it was in the air there was a flood of mockingbirds that scrambled out of nowhere to mob it. While there were two on the wire, when the hawk got in the air there were suddenly 20+, dive bombing it, taking shots at hitting it in the air. With very little effect that I could see.

What a beautiful bird! I hope I see it back up here at the top of the hill again soon, whether the mockingbirds like it or not!

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Late Afternoon Moon

Every now and then someone goes off on social media about how they’ve seen the moon during the day and it’s NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE (LIKE, EVER!!) so this is obviously a sign of the impending apocalypse or a glitch in the Matrix or a conspiracy by the Illuminati or something.

These people are usually mocked hideously (as they should be, because, jeez!) but it does make me wonder just how clueless some folks can be about the world around us. I understand that not everyone can have a college degree in the sciences or be the next “Jeopardy!” super champion. But where exactly do we set the bar for awareness of “common knowledge” facts about the reality that surrounds us 24/7/365?

I think it’s safe to assume that by their teenage years everyone should have noticed that the moon is often visible in the daylight hours. Water is wet, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, fire is hot, Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and the moon is often visible in the daylight hours.

(Too early for spoilers on the Luke thing?)

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Happy Landiversary, Curiosity!

Ten years ago:

From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Ten years ago, Opportunity made this terrifying, improbable ride from space to the surface of Mars, successfully plopping itself down in Gale Crater to look for evidence that Mars once had liquid water on its surface and the possibility of an environment which could have led to the evolution of life.

The SUV-sized rover was designed to last one Martian year, or 687 Earth days. Anything after that was gravy.

Today was day #2,965 of gravy as Curiosity continues to operate, explore, and climb while it sends back thousands of pictures and other data from the surface of Mars.

TEN FREAKIN’ YEARS!

(And going strong.)

Happy Landiversary, Curiosity! And congrats to everyone at NASA and JPL who continue to Dare Mighty Things.

Curiosity has taken over 500,000 images. What’s it looking at tosol?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The ChemCam is looking at rocks.

Want to see a recent, more conventional image?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Click on it to see it full-sized, it’s a big image.

Carry on, Curiosity. You’re doing great!!

 

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Scolded By My New Mockingbird Overlord

The birds come, the birds go.

Some of them are seasonal-ish. Take the juncos. Back in the spring I noted that all of them seemed to have vanished, except for one. “Solo Junco.” Then they were back last fall, a dozen or more. Now they’re gone again – except for Solo Junco. I like to think he’s the smart one who’s figured out that there’s food here 24/7/365 and he doesn’t need to fly to some other continent to spend the summer.

There were bluebirds in the spring, more this year than last, until the neighbors’ trees got pruned within an inch of their lives. I was out in the front yard this evening, being scolded by my new mockingbird overlord, when I realized that I hadn’t seen a single bluebird in June or July after that tree trimming.

This evening while out in the back after dark, listening to the mockingbirds (again), I realized that I hadn’t heard the owls in at least two or three months. There are times when I’ll hear them three or four nights a week, at least a pair, sometimes more, hooting through the canyons. I hope they’re back sometime soon. I love listening to them. And occasionally seeing them.

It’s all cyclic, I guess, although I’m not doing a good job of tracking the data to record the cycles. I do remember in the spring, about the time that the juncos left, also noting that I was seeing relatively few mockingbirds. We often had dozens of them, especially noticable when there was an owl or a hawk around. They do tend to sound the alarm and make a racket. But I had only seen one or two in months.

About a month ago they came back in force, and again we have dozens in the neighborhood. One pair in particular seems to be hanging about our house, with the male being noticeably aggressive in the last few days. They might be building a nest in the rain gutters over the front door, or he might be getting worms and bugs out of the leaf debris in those gutters. Either way, when he gets interrupted by me going in or out of the front door, his displeasure is vocal and energetic.

This is what led me to today’s scolding. He was on the gutter’s edge right over my head, then flew down by the garage, then to the top of the garage where he could assert his dominance. Well, in theory. I wasn’t backing down, instead choosing to open a dialogue with proposals about how we could share the space like two reasonable critters.

I’m not sure that we made much progress. There are some translation and communication issues, to be sure. Perhaps I’ll see if he’s interested in taking food offerings of some sort.

If that gutter is being claimed by him, we’re going to need to figure out something in the next three and a half months. Christmas light season is right around the corner. Sort of. Given my recent encounters with gravity, climbing ladders to put up lights will be extra “special.” The last thing I’ll need is getting dive bombed by a pissed off mockingbird, treating me like he treats a hawk or owl.

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Blue & Black

Following last weekend’s tripping incident (do I go to the penalty box for two minutes?) my arm has decided that it’s now time to turn some graphic shades of purple, black, blue, and yellow in addition to continuing to be tender.

“YOU SHOULD SEE THE OTHER GUY!”

Well, yeah, except that the “other guy” was gravity and it kicked my ass. Again, the good news is that I had the presence of mind to not stick out my hands and end up with two broken wrists and instead tucked and rolled, landing on my “off” elbow and shoulder.

To take my mind off of that, today I got to spend almost two full hours in the dentist chair. What I had thought would be ten minutes of biting down into goo to get a mold for a replacement crown turned into an ordeal of poking, prodding, numbing, needling, drilling, grinding, burning, sanding, polishing, and biting down into goo. About mid afternoon the anesthetic wore off and my tongue, cheek, and gums have spent the rest of the day getting reacquainted after their little nappy-bye, with lots of “WTF happened while we were asleep??!!”

I’ll be taking drugs to get to sleep tonight. If anyone needs me bright and early tomorrow morning, I plan on being neither.

I am FrownyFace McCrankyPants. I want ice cream but that would only make it much worse, and if that isn’t an indictment of our times I don’t know what is.

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Skyscapes – August 02nd

Too much adrenaline the past few days. Starting with some dental issues that just put a constant buzz of advanced discomfort on every breath, along with a dentist who keeps telling me there’s nothing wrong at all. We’ll try again tomorrow on that front. Something to look forward to. (NOT!!)

Celebrity deaths over the weekend. Sometimes it’s just a footnote or a minor point of interest. Sometimes it’s more, like with Bill Russell or Nichelle Nichols.

Then tonight we hear about Vin Scully.

LA sports fans are lucky. For decades we got to hear Hall of Fame announcers almost every night. Chick Hearn doing the Lakers games, Bob Miller on the Kings’ broadcasts, and Vin Scully as the voice of the Dodgers for sixty-seven years.

Even growing up in KC as an A’s fan, then being a Cubs fan when the A’s moved away and I did to, finally being an Angels fan since the mid 1970’s when I moved to Southern California, I always knew who Vin Scully was. The man was a poet, a storyteller, far more than a mere baseball announcer.

Tonight we also went and donated blood again at the new Red Cross center, which happens to be right across the street from our “new” ALS Golden West offices. That’s a task we choose to participate in every eight weeks (-ish) and while it’s something I’ve done hundreds of times and I’m used to, there’s still some stress involved.

Then of course, politics, life, the Universe, and everything.

So I noticed that there were clouds, some subtropical moisture kicking into the area from a tropical storm off of Baja. Not enough for any rain here, although some mountain areas got a few showers, but enough to look pretty if you pay attention.

I paid attention.

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Buzzing Demon

Welcome to August, where I finally vanquished my nemisis of the last three days!

No, not the monthly financial reports, although I did get those done. I’m talking about this not-so-tiny buzzing demon from Hell!

It’s truly amazing to me that an insect so relatively tiny can cause such chaos for me for days on end. He was in my office, and once I knew he was there at least I was able to keep him quarantined in that one room. If he had gotten out and was buzzing around my ears at night I might not have survived the war that would have had to follow.

As it was, every time I was in my office, which was a LOT the last few days (oh, who are we trying to fool, it’s ALWAYS a lot!) every ten or fifteen minutes I would hear that high-pitched whine as he buzzed my ear and tried to take some blood from my jugular vein. Then he would dart off, my work would be interrupted, and the madness would repeat.

The other thing that I noticed is that he was biting me repeatedly on my arm where I have a large bruise. (I fell off of a small laddar while refilling the hummingbird feeders a few days ago. The good news is that the “Have you fallen?” feature on the Apple Watch works just fine. I’ve set it off plenty of times while just minding my own business and being a bit rambunctions. It’s nice to know that it also goes off when I actually need it.) Where the bruise lies under the skin I’m guessing it’s that purple color because there’s a pocket of blood, or at least more blood in the tissue than normal. Can a mosquito sense that somehow and know that a bruised area is a target-rich environment? Google doesn’t say.

Starting the week and the month with the usual issues I was annoyed that this guy got me again. Then he vanished while I stalked him when I should have been downloading bank balances. But when he came in for another pass he was silhouetted against the monitors and my cat-like reflexes whipped into action. (HA!)

On closer examination, I note that this is one of those Asian Tiger Mosquitos – the black & white stripes on the legs are a dead giveaway. The issue is that these guys can spread the West Nile virus and other nasties, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for any symptoms.

There may be a viral load in my future, but for now, VICTORY IS MINE!

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Door Dragon

Today the door dragon was on guard.

Can you see him? I mean, the clouds were gorgeous just before sunset, the view over Castle Peak as lovely as ever. But there’s a dragon there.

So he’s a relatively tiny dragon, but he’s on guard nonetheless! He’s not just there for the warm sidewalk and near infrared radiation.

He’s also there to eat! He doesn’t do this for his health. The presence of hawks, mockingbirds, and various other predators have a bearing on the odds of surviving the afternoon out there somewhat in the open. But right there along the far edge of the sidewalk… See it? Dinner on the hoof!

Even under the best of times there are ants everywhere here. With it as dry as it is now, the worst drought in decades and threatening to become the worst in recorded history, the ants are everywhere.

And while that sucks for us, it’s a feast for the fence lizards! So let him sploot out there on the porch, I won’t bother him. Let him eat his fill of ants any day.

Just watch out for the hawks. And the mockingbirds. And all of the other critters higher up on the food chain in that whole circle-of-life thing.

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Another Saturday Night, Another Play At The Ahmanson

Tonight we get “Dear Evan Hansen.”

“Oklahoma” is for September at the end of the season. “Prom” is next month.

Gotta admit, these theater & concert subscriptions are pretty cool!

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Flash Fiction Revival?

Those of you who are new-ish around here might not be aware that, way back in 2013 when this site got started, one of the key features was a more-or-less weekly post centered around Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge.

For my part, I was out of work for the first time in my life, the job market sucked, I was over 50, and I had worked at the same company for over 27 years. That’s four strikes in the job hunting game. In order to keep active and somewhat sane, as well as “networking” and keeping my skillset sharp, I took on two critical tasks. First, I became the Finance Office for the CAF SoCal Wing, giving me continuing hands-on accounting experience. Secondly, I started this site to be writing and creative every day.

Chuck Wendig was in the early stages of his now brilliant writing career (his “Wanderers” from two years ago was amazing, and the sequel “Wayward” comes out November 15th, so get “Wanderers” now, read it, you can thank me later, and you’ll be ready to get “Wayward” in November – you’re welcome!) and had a great website talking about writing and Pennsyltucky heirloom apples and horror and stuff (it’s still there!) and once a week he would give us a prompt and an assignment. No prizes, no “winning,” no real contest, no professional editing or advice from Chuck, just something you could try to do for your own practice, honing your writing skills, publishing on your own site and then posting a link in the thread on his site. Folks there would read and comment on other folks’ stories, some folks there would read your story on your site and make comments. I remember the whole process very fondly.

The whole thing fell by the wayside as Chuck’s career took off spectacularly and he needed to spend time, you know, writing for a living and paying the bills. But in today’s post Chuck mentioned in passing that he’s musing about restarting that Flash Fiction challenge. Would anyone be interested?

Well, DUH!!

If it happens, it happens. I’ll be more than willing to dive back into that practice writing on Day One of its revival should that come to pass.

But today, prompted by that, I was curious how eight to nine years of distance would color those snippets. So I went back and read a half dozen…

I realy and truly enjoyed reading every one of them. Several I didn’t remember writing at all, but they’re pretty good. None of them are going to win any Pulitzers, but they were coherent, well structured, escaped from being too trite or cliched, and the words flowed well. One where I had deliberately written a real sexist asshole as the first person character (the prompt for the week was a shirtless man with a pair of automotive jumper cables on his nipples) was still (in my opinion) humorous and didn’t suck at all. In fact, of the six that I sampled at random, none of them was a real stinker. (This one was also really intriguing.)

A lot of it was stuff that I normally wouldn’t have ever have tried. Write a story in ten short chapters. Write a story in the voice of a religous devotee. Write a story from the point of view of someone who doesn’t speak the language. And so on.

My favorite, which we did three or four times? Week one (W1) write 200 words, not 1,000. Week two, everyone take a W1 story from someone else and add 200 words to it. Someone may or may not take yours, you take anyone’s you want, so some may not get taken, some may get taken by multiple other folks. Week 3 we do this again, adding another 200 words to someone’s W1+W2 story fragment. Ditto W4, and W5, ending up with 1,000 words or so in five segments done by five different authors, to tell one story, but without any active collaboration. It’s additive, not collaborative.

Challenging. Fun!

I’ll wait and hope. In the meantime, if you’re interested and missed any of my stories the first time around, they were all published here. Just do a search for “Flash Fiction.”

Enjoy!

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