Somebody was lurking on my tomatillos…somebody about the size of my pinky nail…
When Kevin and I were in New Orleans a month or so ago, we were out birding and encountered this killdeer in a parking lot. It immediately set about convincing Kevin that its wing was broken. Really broken. SO BROKEN YOU GUYS.
Killdeer are, of course, justly famous for this trick. They do it to lure predators away from the nest. Kevin ambled after the bird with a camera and I watched them do a slow motion chase scene across the parking lot.
Eventually, having taken about a million photos, Kevin stopped. But the killdeer did not. There were four of us, but Kevin, rescuer of kittens, was clearly the menace. It was practically charging him waving its “broken” wing.
Kevin: No, I’m done, it’s okay.
Killdeer: MY WING IS SUPER BROKEN
Kevin: I have no interest in your nest.
Killdeer: THIS WING, RIGHT HERE? I BROKE IT IN THE WAR. TWO WARS. SEVEN WARS. SO MANY WARS.
Kevin: I’m starting to feel weird about this, bird.
Killdeer: AAUGH LOOK NOW MY OTHER WING IS BROKEN TOO
Killdeer: I WILL RUN A LITTLE WAY AND FALL OVER WAVING MY BROKEN WINGS THE PAIN THE PAIN
Kevin: I’m not going to chase you.
Killdeer: YOU HAVE TO CHASE ME MY WINGS ARE BROKEN ALSO I BELIEVE MY LEGS ARE GOING
Kevin: This is just sad.
Killdeer: I BELIEVE I AM ALSO ON FIRE
Kevin: You’re still going.
Killdeer: THERE IS NO PAIN LIKE THIS PAIN PLEASE STEP A LITTLE FARTHER THIS WAY I AM SURELY ABOUT TO BE CAUGHT AT ANY MOMENT
Kevin: Fine, if it’ll make you happy.
(Kevin ambles after Killdeer)
Killdeer: JUST A LITTLE FARTHER…A LITTLE BIT FARTHER AND SURELY I WILL STOP RUNNING AWAY DID I MENTION THAT MY WINGS ARE SUPER-BROKEN?!
(Kevin, camera in hand, stumbles onto a group of King Rail chicks in the ditch)
Rail Chicks: AAAAAAAUUUUUUGGGHHHHMONSTER
Kildeer: AHAHA DEVOUR THEM, MY ENEMY, WHILE I FLEE BACK TO MY CHILDREN ON MY MAGICALLY HEALED WINGS
Kevin: …that bird is a jerk.
(Photo by Kevin)
I can’t quite express how wild the oakleaf hydrangea is right now. It has these big loose cones of flowers, but the inside of the cones are clouds of stamens dripping pollen. Honeybees are swarming all over them, rolling around in it, covered in yellow. There’s a few flower beetles and so forth, but I think our neighbor’s entire hive of honeybees is here.
So I was in bed last night reading on my iPad, with the lights off, and Kevin was asleep next to me with Sergei the cat curled up in the crook of his arm, as is Sergei’s wont.
Something tickled my elbow. I assumed, because of my position, that it was Sergei’s tail, and ignored it.
It tickled me again. I absently brushed at Sergei to get his tail out of the way, and realized that Sergei was curled up in Full Meatloaf and his tail was nowhere near me.
My brain executed a remarkable series of calculations in a very short period of time, involving what it must be, to be so…large…and then that I should under no circumstances swat at it because that would cause it to bite, and then that leaping out of bed would result in the monster being somewhere in the bed with sleeping Kevin and Sergei and Sergei might try to attack it and get bitten.
I have been bitten by this sort of beast before. It is agonizing and it lasts for days, like a hot wire being dragged through your skin.
The centipede–for such it was–wandered off my arm and into the blankets.
“KEVIN!” I hissed. “KEVIN WAKE UP AND GRAB SERGEI!”
“Aunnggh?” he said from the depths of sleep.
“Kevin! Wake up, now!”
“There’s a centipede in the bed! A big one! You have to roll out of bed and grab the cat!”
Only a few phrases will bring one from a dead sleep to instant consciousness, but there’s a centipede in the bed is among them.
Like a precision drill team, we rolled out of the bed. The centipede, a sizable Florida Blue in the two-inches-and-some-change range, flailed around the blankets in multi-legged wrath. (Centipedes don’t get frightened, they just get angry.)
Kevin dropped a rudely awakened Sergei onto the floor, grabbed for his glasses, and went into the bathroom while I kept watch on the centipede. He returned with toilet paper. It is nearly impossible to stop a centipede with toilet paper–it’s hard enough just to beat one to death with a shoe or a shampoo bottle–but you can at least grab it and keep it occupied for five seconds to get it to the toilet and send it to a watery grave.
And then it was somewhere in the septic tank, and we both slowly climbed back into bed. I considered shaving my head so that every touch of hair on my shoulder did not send me into shrieking horror. I considered shaving the cats. I considered burning the house and moving to a new house that had never had centipedes, or at least the bed, which was now a centipede bed and not a human bed.
And that is why I did not sleep well last night.
A mystery for all my naturalist buddies out there…
I spent the weekend in the swamps of Lousiana, specifically a mixed cypress & palmetto bayou. (Early May, in case this post sticks around for awhile.) We were birding in the middle of the day, and at one point, we stopped because some Gray Gnatcatchers were bopping around in a tree with what may have been a Nashville Warbler.
All of a sudden, a sound started up off to one side. It was not a bird call that anyone recognized (and I was with two people who bird very well by ear.) It was not a gator grunt, nor a green frog banjo-twang, nor any of the tree frogs that I know, nor the buzz of a cicada. It sounded like someone driving with a squeaky fan belt.
“Fan belt bird,” said one of my birding companions.
And then the noise came very much closer and all of a sudden there were several of them calling, all around us, from high off the ground. The noise of multiple…whatevers…calling in this rising-and-falling sound had an incredibly loud, incredibly eerie effect. “It’s aliens,” I said. “Soon the probes will come.”
I have no idea what it actually was. My only guess is some kind of insect, but it could be some kind of frog. Does anybody have any thoughts?
BEHOLD THE HORRID GLORY OF CRAW-BOB THE LAWN CRAYFISH HE LIVES HE HUNGERS HE IS ABOUT THREE AND A HALF INCHES LONG THEY SAID I WAS MAD WHEN I SPOKE OF LAWN CRAYFISH BUT WHO IS LAUGHING NOW!?
Hound went out in a rainstorm and poked something, which poked her back, and this sequence ended in me balancing a phone and a flashlight. I took a gazillion photos, of which two came out.
Look at him! Look at his glory! Look at the proof that he exists and I’m not hallucinating lobsters in the flowerbed! AAAAAAAHHH
So I was pulling weeds and flinging handfuls into the uncultivated chunk of garden under the trees, and I winged in a handful of chickweed and looked up just in time to see it land on top of this guy. (He is a Carolina Chickadee.)
I ran in and immediately excavated him. He was fine, but as he is a fledgling, still not a very good flier and couldn’t get out of the way. He sat and looked angrily at me while I took his photo. When I returned, he had scuttled off into the undergrowth.
(If you find a bird like this, eyes open and fully feathered, that is not injured, or not in immediate danger of being mauled by a cat or something, leave it alone. This is a normal stage of bird development and the parents are still feeding it while it wanders around and tests its wings. They know where it is.)
You can read the full saga of Turtle-Bob over at Squash’s Garden, here.
Nine Goblins is on iBooks! You go to the app, you type in “Nine Goblins” and it’s THERE and it’s a BOOK! WOOO!
*pant pant pant*
No love from Kobo yet, but you can’t have everything.
Far more importantly, if you ask me, Brandon the border collie is back from the vet. We have been very nervous in the House of Wombat because he’s started falling down the stairs and occasionally wiping out on corners at speed, and that is Not Good in an old dog, particularly a Jumbo Size one in a breed with known hip issues. And once he goes down, being Jumbo Size and somewhat arthritic makes it hard for him to get back up. (He’s also got dormant Lyme, so his joints are creaky anyway, but his fear of stairs has gotten a lot worse in recent weeks, and we were getting very worried.)
So it was with great relief that the vet informed Kevin that Brandon is, in fact, blind in one eye. His hesitance on the stairs now is probably not pain but the simple fact that he can’t SEE the stairs very well–he takes the shorter flights fine, but the big staircase in the middle of the house is just a mass of wood-grain stretching to infinity. Adding non-skid tape to them probably helped, once he got over his initial alarm that Something Had Changed Without His Approval, since there are now large black bars marking the treads.
(That last is totally a border collie thing…the beagle could be utterly blind and would cheerfully hurl himself down the stairs because they’ve always been there BEFORE, right? But Brandon is very intelligent and also has limited respect for his humans’ intelligence and prefers to think his way through things himself. He has no problem going UP the stairs, probably because the next one is always at eye level.)
There is no treatment for the blindness—we could spend a lot of money to find out if it’s the eye or the brain behind it, but since they couldn’t fix it either way and his bloodwork’s not turning up scary, there doesn’t seem to be much point. We were already planning on moving Kevin’s office back downstairs so that Brandon can be with his human most of the day without having to tackle stairs–god willing, he’s got at least two or three years left, and this’ll cut down his stair adventures to morning and evening.
So let me get the really huge awesome amazing stuff out of the way first—my buddy Mur Lafferty won the Campbell Award!
Seriously, I was terrified. This was her last year eligible and I really wanted her to win it, and not just because she has driven me to the airport at 6 AM before. More on that and LoneStarCon to follow.
So I went out to Texas Hill Country with my buddy Tina to go birding, a few days in advance of LoneStarCon (this year’s WorldCon location) and we had an awesome time. Texas Hill Country is legendary among birders for the sheer variety that show up there. Sadly, it was August, which means that there were far fewer birds than most other times of the year, and also that it was MISERABLY HOT.
Nevertheless, we saw 77 different species (and bear in mind that this was an incredibly low number for the area!) 20 of which were new life birds for me.
Now, because somebody always asks, I keep what’s called a “life-list.” It notes the different bird species I’ve seen in my life. It stands at 412 at the moment. This is respectable, if not terribly impressive. 378 of those are what are known as “ABA birds”—birds I have seen in North America and thus eligible for the American Birding Association’s check-lists. Tina’s ABA list is over 600, which is well beyond respectable and puts her into a rarified class of birder. She’s a shameless twitcher, will drive twelve hours to find a rare bird blown in from Asia, and is generally hardcore.
We go birding with each other regularly because I have “freakish eyes” (in her words) and can spot birds, even if I usually have no idea what I’m looking at, and then she can tell me what they are. After I managed to spot a perching common nighthawk, I am forced to admit that she may have a point. (Google them. They are bark-colored lumps of weird.)
We spent quite awhile in pursuit of the endangered black-capped vireo, which sadly eluded us. (Well, August…) At one point, chasing this bird, we went to Lost Maples Park and headed for a trail that supposedly was heavy with vireos. The ranger looked at us dubiously, looked at our footwear, and said “It’s…steep.”
Now, the night before, to digress a bit, we had gone to the Frio Bat Cave, where a charming ranger took us up to the bat emergence. This is the second largest concentration of mammals in the world, over 10 million Mexican free-tailed bats, but because of the drought, it was a slow year. Many bats had already migrated. We didn’t expect much…
…but good lord, did we get it.
More northerly bats, migrating south, had apparently stopped at the Frio Cave, replenishing their numbers. (The ranger was very pleased.) We were the only two tourists there, and we sat in profound astonishment while waves of bats poured out of the cave and passed a few feet over our heads. I have never experienced anything like it. The band of bats snaked through the sky, going on and on, looking sort of like the Milky Way in reverse—a thick strip of black specks on deep gray sky, all the way to the horizon.
It was a bit like the Grand Canyon. You had a sense of such extraordinary immensity that you knew your mind wasn’t able to hold it all. I cannot parse 10 million. Hundreds streamed over my head every second and hundreds more and hundreds more and eventually the first bats were lost in the dusk and they were still coming out from the cave without slowing. To say it’s a wonder of the natural world sounds trite, but it’s the only thing I can say that makes sense. I can’t wrap words around it hard enough to make anyone else comprehend it. I stood right there at the cave mouth and I couldn’t comprehend it. It was one of the biggest things I’ve ever seen.
And also they didn’t have restrooms, and I got a lifer black-throated sparrow while I was communing with a friendly bush over the hill. So there’s that.
Anyway, getting back to the original point about vireos and this slope, our ranger—who was a volunteer firefighter and did cave rescue and had about 4% body fat—told us how miserable this trail up to the vireos was.
He may have understated the case.
It was brutally steep, which we could have handled; brutally hot, which was harder; and the surface was made of loose, ankle-breaking scree. We got up three switchbacks and Tina had to call it. I was grateful. Coming back down was wretched, trying not to turn ankles, fall, and slide all the way to the bottom. No vireos.
We birded from the car a lot after that. And also saw The Most Terrifying Insect In The Whole World, but that deserves a separate post of its own.
At one point, sitting in the car studying several large bushes, I saw a vireo. So did Tina.
“It’s got white eyes!” she said.
“No, dark eyes!”
“It’s got yellow lores!”
“No, it doesn’t–those are white lores!”
And then we realized we were on two separate birds.
And then I flipped through the bird book and discovered that I was looking at something that was either a blue-headed vireo…or the endangered black-capped vireo we’d been hunting. And I had seen it and Tina hadn’t.
And I am already on thin ice after that bit with the Laysen albatross.
The reason that I am not a dead body in a ditch in Texas is because, fortunately for me, it was a blue-headed vireo. (Nah, she would have been happy for me. Mostly. Probably. Kinda.) Still a pretty awesome bird, I have to say, and I was pleased to spot it.
There was also the Incident With The River.
We were out, fairly late, in the dark, driving down a county road. It had houses and farms on it, but no lights. There were thick black shadows over the road. (We were, incidentally, looking for Chuck-widow’s-wills, but didn’t find one.)
At some point, as we drove forward, I looked up, saw one of those thick black shadows didn’t look…right…and yelled “SHIT! Water!”
Tina slammed on the brakes and we sat and stared at a river. Which was not on the map. Which was across the road. Which had no signs saying “Warning: Surprise River!”
Seriously, I know Texas is all about individual responsibility and all, but who lets a river go over a road without putting up a sign that says “Hey! River here! Might want to rethink your speed!” !?!
On Sunday morning at the con, we snagged Jeff from Sofawolf (also a birder. Actually, there were a lot of birders at the con, to our surprise—who knew it was so common in fandom?) and went out to a water retention area at a nearby park. It was hot. (Sensing a trend, here?) There were baby grebes, though, and a baby grebe is a heckuva thing. (Google it. Seriously. If you took a baby tapir and turned it into a duck, you’d have a baby grebe.)
We were in pursuit of the elusive olive sparrow for Tina. This bird makes a sound like a ping-pong ball being dropped on a table. It is a very drab sparrow, devoid of anything particularly interesting, and it likes to skulk around in the bushes and be skulky. Tina did not have this particular bird, and when you’re hitting the 600s, new life birds are hard.
We hiked to hell and back looking, got nowhere, got sunburned, and returned sadly to the car…and as Tina opened the door, there was a call like someone dropping a ping-pong ball on a table.
Jeff, of Sofawolf, is a forty-something guy from Minnesota, works in IT and furry publishing. I’m a thirty-something, tattooed woman from North Carolina, write children’s books. Tina’s fifty-something, Canadian, former dental hygienist. We three very different people froze and snapped our heads around in a synchronized movement as precise as any drill team.
The call came again, from a shrub partway down the road. (The call is coming from inside the bush!) We slunk toward it. And after several minutes of frantic whispering, we got on the bird. (Someone saw it. This is “getting on the bird.” You then try to get others on it. I should really do a post about birder lingo…)
It was…well, a drab bird. Not very olive, not very rufous, just enough of both to let us know what we were looking at. It made the call, it flitted away. We did the lifer dance. (Jeff captured this with his phone. Now Tina and I can never run for public office.)
So that was our birding trip, and it was awesome. Next time, though, I’m going in spring.