Lost in the Dust

Brace yourself, this is going to be an ugly ride.  There are times when I wished I had studied up a bit more before going to a particular birding spot.  Typically I’ll jump on the web and try to find a bird list for a destination, but the focus is usually on the entries with the capital ‘C’ next to them.  Those represent the species that are common to the area and therefore the list I am more than likely to see depending on what season our trip falls in.  A quick check of those against my birding list results in a series of circled birds that are considered my target birds and therefore the ones that require Linda to find creative ways to entertain herself until they are officially in the tin

Common Ground Dove found at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Texas, January 2018

Hit the jump to read a bit more about how this Dove made it into the tin.


Recollection: Lost Among the Birds

Neil Haward LostAmong The Birds

It is dog agility weekend which means I have plenty of extra time on my hands.  That also means I can finally get a post out that I’ve had in the queue for a large part of this year.  It may be surprising to know that book reviews are one of the most time consuming topics when it comes to to my efforts here at Intrigued.  Photography posts are pretty straight forward – root through the massive image queue, find a set of shots my readers might find interesting, process them up and then do what I enjoy most, write about the experience.  Book reports (wow, that sounds so grade school ha), do not have the image work beyond one or two quick snaps with my camera phone, but what it lacks in processing, it more than makes up for in recollection time.  I spend a lot of capital on the takeaways, the concepts, quotes, thought provoking elements etc. that was gained from the investment in time with the author.  Today’s feature recollection was so full of takeaways I was hesitant to start on it until there was plenty of time to really do it justice – so there the book sat on my desk, right next to my computer taunting me each and every day for a little more than 11 months.  Today’s the day I address this visual guilt.

As an avid reader, you soon realize there are times when you turn the last page of book and immediately think to yourself “that time investment was only slightly better than watching paint dry.  Other times you might come away with a few good nuggets that make the investment worthwhile.  Every once in a while, a book comes along that has a tremendous impact, influence and/or entertainment value.  These time are easily identifiable by the shock of finality when you turn the last page.  Almost a feeling of sadness knowing the strong bond you just made with an author has come to an end.  There are only a few books that have led to this feeling.  The Lone Survivor is one that comes immediately to mind (and some of the horror stories I was insatiably reading in grade school resulting in a warning to my parents from a snowflake teacher, but I’ll let that go for now).  Now I can add another one to that distinguished list, Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year by Neil Hayward.  This novel was found at the Laguna Atascosa NWR gift shop.  I like to try and help out the various birding locations we visit especially when the visit results in new checks on the bird list – and Laguna has provided me a multitude of +1’s over the years.  Admittedly, before finding and reading this book I wasn’t aware of who Neil was.  The title looked interesting and who wouldn’t want to read about someone’s Big Year.  Figured it would be an interesting read for the long ride back at the close of vacation.  Little did I know at the time, how much I would look forward to turning these pages.  Every page was a mixture of new bird knowledge, a better understanding of what it takes to try and get the most bird species checked in a single year (called a big year for the non-birders out there), personal exploration and laugh out loud humor (note, that humor may be more in tune within birding circles).  A little background on Neil.  He is a graduate of Cambridge and Oxford with a  PhD in biology – the fruit fly nervous system to be exact.  From this foundation he spent 11 years in a successful startup before deciding he needed to find himself… or at least better understand the depression that was taking over his life.  A knowledgeable birder he decided to embark on a Big Year, although, I would characterize it as a Big Year found him rather than the other way around.  One thing led to another and next thing he knew he was earning frequent flyer miles at a record pace traveling all over North America in search of new species to check off.

It is on this adventure you learn about the depression that was taking root in his soul.  At first reluctant to admit it, he slowly comes to grip with it while spending time on the best psychology couch there is –  Mother Nature’s office. Through birding he learns to understand his mental state and reveals his thoughts to the reader as he progresses through the year, discovering himself almost as fast as he was finding new species.  Along with this mental journey, Neil takes you to his most memorable birding spots, many of which Linda and I have also been to making the read all the more personal – a weird combination of elation knowing you have experienced the same bird coupled with a swell of envy as he tracks down a rarity.  Through it all you begin to realize what a saint his new girlfriend (Gerri) must be to put up with his idiosyncrasies, unbelievable amount of time away from home and his inability to commit to the relationship in stark contrast to the commitment he had to those with feathers.  This book had such an impact on me that I immediately went to Amazon and had a copy sent to my brother Ron knowing he would enjoy it just as much as I did.  Maybe he will give his opinion of the read in the comments.  I do not want to ruin the book in case you are intrigued enough to pick it up yourself, but I will reveal he does get an incredible amount of birds -in fact he had more birds checked off in the first month than I have on my life list after years of birding.

In summary, if you are a birder and want to learn what it takes to compete at a Big Year level, then get this book.  If you are not a birder but want to have a better understanding of what drives these crazy bird people, then get this book.  If you want to read about the power Mother Nature can have on the human mind, then get this book.  If nothing else, you simply want an enjoyable read, escape from the new world order of polarizing politics and crave some laughter to your life, then by all means consider Neil’s work as just the thing.  Oh, almost forgot.  If you are a birder, you will want to check out the listing in the back which has the chronological order of every species he found and where.  Like me, you will probably find some places to add to your travel plans.

By the way, one of reasons this book caught my eye in the gift shop is that Neil had signed it!

Neil Haward Lost Among The Birds

Hit the jump to see my takeaways – note, there are some spoilers in there, so if you are considering picking up a copy for yourself, you might want to wait to read these until after you have had a chance to feel the remorse when you turn the last page.


Let’s Celebrate with Pie[d]

We are officially in December now and thus time to walk over to the big counter on the wall and reset the monthly post quota back to zero – by the way, where the hell did this year go!?!  I have single digit days left at work to get this year’s work efforts wrapped up and set the preliminary plan for 2019 before the holiday starts … sigh feel like a race I’m never going to get ahead of.  However, on the bright side, I can tell you where a large portion of the year went thanks to crossing off one of my annual goals tonight.

Goal Completed 1000 miles for 2018\

Anyone who follows either of my blogs know I spend my spare time bathed in sweat chasing down Father Time and running from the Reaper.  During my Birding and Blogging talks this year I mentioned the reason I run (and lift) is so I can spend all day in the field hauling around big glass in hopes of taking pictures to display in my home gym to remind me why I work out – my circle of life.  Always elated when I can check off a goal, let’s celebrate with some pie!

Pied-Billed Grebe found at Padre Bird Viewing and Nature Center, December 2017

Well,  maybe not the pie you were thinking of.  This here is the birder’s version.  Actually, I took some liberties here – this is really a Pie[d]-Billed Grebe.  If you live anywhere in the US or a large swath of Canada, you have ample chance to get one of this cute creatures in the tin.  It is a rare outing when we do not come upon the Pied on one of our water excursions.  You might have to keep your eyes open for reasons explained later, but they are probably there hanging out in small groups or more likely solitaire.

Hit the jump to see some cute picture of the Pied-Billed Grebe!


Totem Spirit

Greetings everyone.  We recently made our way back from a week in Las Vegas which means the sleep counter for the month of November took a serious decrement.  Not complaining, of course, seeing as how that was pretty much self-inflicted.  From a birder’s perspective, Vegas is up there in the top 10 birding places we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.  Actually, should clarify that a bit, the birding is primarily a combination of the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area inside the Mojave Desert. We opted to rent some glass out there this time rather than hauling out the Beast. I wanted the prime Nikon 600 f/4 but the VR ended up being broken on that option, so settled for the 150-600 f5-6.3 Tamaron.  I am here to say, Tamaron glass is NOT Nikon glass.  Still need to go through the images, but it was a fight the entire time.  That glass is way to light to hand hold in the wind and extremely slow to focus compared to my rig making it impossible to nail any in-flight shots. Did manage to get at least one +1 and possibly a couple more.  More to come on that front.  For now, was totally shocked when I came upon this set of pictures in the queue.

Greater Roadrunner found outside Laguna Atascos National Wildlife Refuge in January 2017

This is not the first time the Greater Roadrunner has appeared here at Intrigued, first appearing way back in May of 2013 (link here).  That first encounter was at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and took some effort to find.  It also didn’t allow us to get too close it.  Now this specimen was the Walmart greeter for Laguna Atascosa.National Wildlife Refuge.  We were navigating the absolutely awful road (if you can call it that) that leads into that refuge when our little feathered friend popped out of the brushline.

Greater Roadrunner found outside Laguna Atascos National Wildlife Refuge in January 2017

Hit the jump to read more about my favorite runner.


White-Eyed Vireo

Greeting from the Winter Wonderland everyone.  Was able to get a good 7 mile run in this morning as the sleet was turning to snow.  As soon as I made it back to the house, it was pretty much a light snow that has managed to hang on for the last 9 hours… and by hanging on I mean stay light because now is it’s coming down hard for what they are expecting to be another 9 hours.  I can’t remember the last time we had two good snows with a little less than a week before Thanksgiving.  Also do not remember having to bundle up as much on my runs this early in November (couple of runs ago it was windchill of 13 – F for my international friends).   In an attempt to bring a bit of warmth to my office, let’s head back to Texas and check out my latest addition to the ol’ bird list.

White-Eyed Vireo found at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, December 2017

Hit the jump to find out what bird this is … apologies for the remaining shots.


Book Recollection: Shooter

Shooter: Combat From Behind the Camera

Decided it was time to finally start popping some items from the reading queue.  This particular book recollection has been staring me in the face for the last 6 months – yes, literally, it has been sitting 5 feet from my desk waiting patiently to be introduced to all my readers.  There it sat, passed over every day for something more important, left to collect dust alongside many other projects in a variety of finished states.  Fortunately for me, I am not easily shamed by my backlog, but rather embrace it as a badge of honor for all the things I do get through in a year (okay, maybe more like 3.5 years based on my photo backlog which is growing longer by the second).   Let’s go ahead and take care of this little bit of procrastination… still staring at me.

So, Today’s featured recollection is the product of Retired Staff Sergeant Stacy Pearsall.  Her work entitled Shooter: Combat from behind the Camera provides a glimpse into her career as a a combat photographer.  Oddly enough, a title also held by my brother Ron whenever he goes out in the field with Ticks, Bees, dive bombing birds and a particularly funny story about some harmless steers.  In contrast, Sergeant Pearsall was behind the camera while serving in the Air Force just north of Baghad in the very dangerous Diyala region.  I get stressed when we spot a new bird in a tree and try to quickly figure out the right setting to leave with an identifiable shot in the tin.  Sergeant Pearsall has to figure out settings while trying to keep from getting killed. Pretty much puts my piddly annoyances into perspective.  Shooter is a collection of her photographs taken in the war theater along with commentary about what it’s like to serve our country in this capacity.    Her photographs are a mixture of raw emotion and still point danger.  Page after page is filled with her vision, her viewpoint from the front seat of the war.  Thinking the military might be for you, want to see the world, then you might want to take a wade through time in her words a “worn torn apocalypse”.  After that,  give yourself a chance to reassess and make sure – still want to serve?  then you have my absolute gratitude.

Sergeant Pearsall noted that the Latin term photos translates to light and graphein means write.  This perfectly sums up what I thought of this book – the ability to write words with a collection of light that fell on her camera’s sensor.  As she puts it, the pictures she produces is the stand in when no amount of words will do.  She also leaves you with the chilling fact she might be taking someone’s last living picture.  Something to remember when you think your day is too stressful.

In summary, it is a quick read, but recommend taking the time to actually look at the pictures, imagine what it was like to be behind the camera and most of all, what must be going through the minds of the subjects at that very moment in time.  Thank you Staff Sergeant Stacy Pearsall, first for your service and second for sharing with the world your thoughts and photographs.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways:


A Jay for a Long Day

Hello Everyone!  There are times that you think you are never going to get through and then somehow everything comes together and then start believing you have everything under control… then life throws you a curveball and you are back to trying to get wood on a difficult pitch.  That is how it has been here at LifeIntrigued over the last several months.  The hectic agenda was finally smoothed only to have a loss in the family.  With a heavy heart we laid my wife’s mother to rest today in a nice ceremony in her hometown.  We will miss her, but she is in a better place now, free from the burdens that weighed her down in her later years.

In Memory, Dorothy Barton

(12/3/1927 – 11/5/2018)


It has been said the best way to move on from a bump in the road is to simply continue driving forward.  Seems like sound advice to me, so in an attempt to move forward, thought I’d go ahead and put a post out on one of my favorite topics.  On this rather dark day, I bring you one of the brightest birds the aviary world has to offer.

Green Jay captured at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this stunning Jay!


Dead Eye Lincoln

I have used a specific quoted from a well-known photographer numerous times in this blog.  It is a bit in jest because Linda and I have listened to many of his blog podcasts and even had the pleasure of meeting him person thanks to a speaking engagement with our local camera club.  If you were into drinking games this would be a perfect situation where you get to choose what phrase they must down a shot to.  Sometime during a Rick Salmon presentation he will say some variation of “one blurry picture is a mistake, a whole bunch of them is a style”.  Drink up!  In the past post, we met Mr. Softie.  In this post you will also see Mr. Softie and well, by the third post on its way you are going to be thinking this is just my style hehehehe.  To my defense, all three of the posts in question probably covered a total of 5-6 seconds.  Incredibly relieved that enough characteristics made it to the sensor to be able to get a proper ID .. which means an official check on the list. There’s a lifetime of chances to get better pictures, but to be in the right place for the right second or two can make the difference of never getting the opportunity to make that mark.  Wife just hollered out to stop making excuses so better man up and get to tonight’s triple F (featured feathered friend).

Lincoln's Sparrow found at Harlingen Thicket World Birding Center January 2018

Hit the jump to learn more about this highly secretive Sparrow!


New Stones for the Haunted Graveyard

Welcome to the first installment of the Halloween 2018 Haunted Trail of Tears Project Posts.  For those of you not familiar with my “addiction” as my wife refers to it, we host an annual Halloween cookout.  One of the main elements of that cookout is a haunted trail we set up in through our woods.  It is quite the event and has grown to epic proportions over the years.  My friend in haunt Paul and I tend to go overboard on our favorite holiday.  You might get the impression this is something that is thrown together in a week or so near Halloween.  Truth is, this is a 364 day a year activity.  Paul and I are constantly working on new decorations for the trail throughout the year.  The day of the cookout is simply the time when all our friends get to see what we have been squirreled away in our labs building all year.   During the next couple of months I am hoping to go through some of my new builds for the trail.  Keeping with tradition, I will also be posting about the overall haunted trail so  you get a better feel for just how labor intensive this is.  One of my projects this year was to improve our grave yard with some new headstones.

Project Head Stones for Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2018

How scary is that!  Pretty happy with how my stones turned out this year and figured I’d walk you through all the steps it takes to get one err.. three of these babies ready for the trail.  From a materials perspective, the base of the stones are made out of 2″ foam insulation.  A 4×8 sheet of that stuff is ridiculously expensive for what it is (~$22/sheet depending on the quality you get).  Look for sales and the 11% off at Menards events to bring that price point down a bit.  You should be able to get a number of good sized tombstones out of a single sheet.  One sheet yielded 5 for me – one from last year – link here three intricate stones and then the second from the left is just an extra from the remaining piece (if you look close you can tell is was left over from cutting out the cross).

Project Head Stones for Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2018

Hit the jump to see how this year’s stones were made!


Swamp Thing

Thanks to the extra cycles in my schedule as of late, thought I would loop back into the spoils from the Texas Gulf Coast birding trips and see what’s left to tick that bird counter up.  I’ve made it through most of the quality shots in preparation for the multiple talks I’ve given on the subject to local groups.  I was shocked to still find a number of potential lifers in there.  Sent some samples up to Ron who was able to confirm my initial IDs – score!  Unfortunately, most of these encounters were momentary.  I’d be intent on getting a target bird in the tin and then catch a brief glimpse of something moving in my periphery.  Note to new birders – when you are away from the home base, if anything with feathers decides to crash your party – flip the shutter on it.  If it turns out to be a common maybe you’ll get a better shot for your portfolio.  You might just be surprised to find out its one that has been eluding you for years.  Worse case, you tap that little key with the Del label on it and that moment in history never happened.  I joke to myself that it was “Obelisked” in reference to the Egyptian structures that provided a historical accounting of the Pharaohs. Except that history was obliterated err deleted and a new manufactured history created in its place that put the new Pharaoh in better standing.  Obscure, but I like to get some use out of all my non-core electives in college ha.  Wow, drifted from the feature of tonight’s post.

Swamp Sparrow found at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Texas December 2017

As eluded to earlier, when this shot was taken I was in the midst of tracking a Sora (link here).  That bird is a pain in the ass to get in the tin as it darts in and out of the reeds along the water banks.  Just spotting them is task number one.  From there you are trying to keep a focus on it as the glass bounces back and forth with every reed that comes between the two.  Sometime in that adventure, this little brown jobber darted in for a quick check on meal options.  Assuming it was just a common Sparrow, slid the barrel of the glass over, snapped a few for the record and then went back to being frustrated.  It wasn’t until the review a few days ago that something triggered renewed interested.  Actually that was the second trigger – the first was “Wow, Bri you need some photography lessons”.   Basically bled through some foreground stalks.  Honestly, lucky the glass didn’t start searching and completely ruin the encounter.  This Sparrow might have only been there for less than five seconds, but it’s now an official check on my list.

Hit the jump to find out what this darkly colored bird is!