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The Train to Zagreb

Huge and modern Prague Train Station For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  W...

Monday, December 02, 2013

Birdie Day!

I'm back in California, and happily, that horrid cold I had in Baltimore is now just a virus ridden memory. As today seemed like a good day for some birding, my birder buddy Don drove over from the Bay Area and we hit the road for Tahoe. It was nice and cold - as in, as cold as you can get without being snowed on. What with the cold and all, I was loath to get out of the car so there aren't as many photos for today's jaunt as I would like.  very close to none actually. None the less, here they are.

Let me set the scene. We first drove east to Tahoe and took the back country road to Markeeville. Along the way we stopped to peruse for birds and there we found some Clark's Nutcrackers. 

Clark's Nutcracker
I love flight shots - however in or out of focus
  Not long afterwards we were in Markleeville where I wasn't too cold to not get out and do a bit of shopping at the tiny local general store. We stopped along the Carson River by the overpass bridge where Don went off to look for water Dippers - a little gray bird that walks along under the river water. No Dippers today but Don did spot a Bald Eagle that we got decent looks at. Unfortunately for you, the eagle was too far off for photos.

On our way back to highway 50, we took a little road off hwy 89 to Indian Creek Reservoir and Steven's Lake. I drove while Don scanned the road for any birdie type movement. We didn't see much and then suddenly - and I wish the hell I'd used my video to capture the moments - a HUMONGOUS flock of Pinyon Jays were shooting over the road & us, and into a pine forest. There must have been 150 Jays in my perhaps over generous estimation.Jay after jay, screaming, shot past us. Don and I just about lost our minds with excitement.

Once upon a time, Don and I dedicated trips to finding the 'ever elusive' damned Pinyon Jays. The birds seemed to be purposefully avoiding us. We hit their habitat again and again and no Pinyon Jays. Finally, last year, we found a flock at Mono Lake - hurray! I always joke that it may take half of forever to find a lifer species, but once you do, the danged things will pop up everywhere. So, here we were, at a spot we'd visited before with no Pinyon jays, and now - as we weren't looking for them - them, here was the biggest flock of the things one could hope for. Oh how ironic is that?

One fleeing Pinyon Jay out of 150+
There are at least 3 Pinyon Jays in this pic - bet you can't find more than one.
I tried - how I tried - to get photos of the Pinyon's but they were ever moving and after what I estimate at 15 minutes, the entire flock was long gone. I barely managed to document their presence with a few photos. It only occurred to me later, if I'd just used my iPhone video I could have recorded, not only the the jays shooting through the trees, but also their raucous calls. Maybe next time, eh?

Another bird we spotted by Steven's lake was a v. far off Golden Eagle. All in all today we saw two Bald Eagles and the one Golden Eagle. 

A Golden eagle - far, far, far away
The wonderful mega flock of Pinyon Jays was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. Afterwards we stopped in South Lake Tahoe for a nice Chinese buffet that was, I believe, better than either of us expected. The time was next taken to cruise up the California side of Lake Tahoe. North of the lake there was a stop in Squaw Valley but there wasn't much luck, so the next stop was Fair Oaks. All in all, I must say, no day spent in the Sierras is ever wasted. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wings Over the Susquehanna

A bit of fall color near the Conowingo Dam Visitor Center
Yay! Today was Kirk's day off and he thought I might enjoy a little eagle watching. So off we drove, through the beautiful Maryland countryside, to Conowingo Dam, which crosses the Susquehanna River in the far northwest of Maryland.

When we reached the Dam, we drove over it and then back again, and that got us our first view of a Bald Eagle not far off over the river. Cheers! We decided to drop in at the Visitor Center to find out where the eagle viewing was best.

We had a lovely chat with a visitor center lady who told us the dam has an annual Eagle photography contest. We took some time to view contest entries on a TV. The photos were awesome!

I totally enjoy seeing the education exhibits; I'm a Visitor Center junkie.
The lady directed us to the eagle viewing area, a short drive down to the river front. There was not only immediately saw lots of Baldies, but loads of eagle watchers.

Kirk heading from the walkway down to the waterfront viewing area
Fans of Eagles on the watch
An adult Baldie winging past the dam
There were eagles everywhere. The eagle viewers - with their spotting scopes and huge long lens at the ready - would perk up any time one of the distant eagles flew in to our side of the river. I had my little long lens with me and was tickled to get a few shots of an eagle that successfully snagged its lunch.

 

Fish in tow, the eagle sailed into some trees and there, enjoyed its lunch at leisure.

I got at least a couple of dozen shots of eagles and that was enough to teach me the birds were not easy to photograph. It wasn't that they were all over the place and moving at a fast clip, but I noted while the dark brown bodies tended to photograph well. the same was not true for the white heads, which tended to look washed out. I had no clue how to adjust my camera for that, so I came to appreciate the skill of those who won accolades in the Dam's eagle photography competition.

Boomerang Shot
Screaming Juvenile Baldie
 On the entertainment committee were adult eagles, stealing fish from the yearling eagles. There was a wall by the dam where the juvenile baldies hung out. We got to see an adult snitch a fish from a flustered juvie. 

Three Adults and three juvenile eagles - fish thievery by the adults was rampant
Loved the time we spent at the dam. I happened to meet the guy who won the 2013 Eagle photo contest. He was very nice and shocked me by saying he is NOT a birder! He just loves photographing eagles for his entertainment. Should have asked him the secret of getting both an eagle's head and body in proper exposure.

After we left the Conowingo Dam, Kirk and I went to a couple of other birding spots. First we went to one where though we didn't see birds we did see this handsome fellow - can you see him?

This handsome White-tail buck was certain we couldn't see him
Next we visited Robert E. Lee park, where I've visited before. There is a dam there too, smaller but just as scenic as Conowingo.

Robert E. Lee Park




There were tiny surprises along the pathway which took all my self restraint not to pick up - particularly when I noted a few that had popped open contained chocolate candy bars and other tidbits.




The tots are carrying bags of candy
laden not-exactly-Easter eggs






Kirk and I must have spotted a dozen or more 'Easter eggs' as we walked along the pathways and past the dam. Finally it became apparent the eggs were not left over from last Easter, but were meant for a particular group of children, at the park with their guardians.







We had a nice chat with a Park Ranger who recommended we hike the wooden boardwalk that traverses Lee Park. We went along the path for a bit, and of course, I didn't get too far.  The afternoon was fairly chilly and it was surprising that the park was nearly bird-free. The only feathery park occupants in the park were a Tufted Titmouse, a Carolina Wren and one busy Great Blue Heron.

Loved this Heron and its shadow
All in all, I had a lovely time being outside today. As happens, with my having caught that awful cold and such, this was the only day of birding I've had on this east coast excursion. I have to thank Kirk for seeing I managed to get some time in with my feathered buds.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

An Early Thanksgiving


Yay! My entire Baltimore Family

This weekend Bea, my niece decided to serve up an early Thanksgiving for my benefit. I was floored and pleased she would go through all the fuss of preparing a full Thanksgiving meal just so I could enjoy celebrating the holiday with family. Wow...

The meal was wonderful - delicious and even regional, as several of the entrees, such as the greens, were southern style. I mean, imagine: even the collards - a veggie I'd formerly avoided like a plague - were so delish I had seconds.

Loading up on Thanksgiving Goodness
You would think celebrating Thanksgiving would have been enough for the day, and you would be wrong. November is a birthday month for the family and all the birthday boys and girl were celebrated too.

Birthday honorees Kirk, Avon and Sydney

Our Saturday Thanksgiving is so wonderful, it has been decided we will do a repeat tomorrow. Hey, there are more than enough leftovers to pull off a double header of turkey wonderfulness. Yum!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nyquil, Annapolis and a Whole Lot of Sushi

Ah! The photo below is a shot from the perfect ending to a perfect day. Today is Kirk's birthday so tonight we all gathered at Bea & Avon's condo for a big ole' sushi celebration in Kirk's honor. Yum. That's all I have to say about that, YUM. Oh! And a very happy birthday Kirk!

My Niece Bea, Great-niece Ain and one-year-older-today, Nephew Kirk
But as my last post was a week ago, I think I ought to catch you up on what I've been doing.Uh... well, dear sweet potions of NyQuil; I was sick all week! Strongly suspect I picked up a bug on one of the two fully booked flights I took from the west coast. Seven hours breathing recirculated air in a cheek to jowl packed flight can do that to you.

My neph Kirk had a couple of days off mid week, and although there were plans for birding & sight seeing, I wound spent most of the week. lifeless on the family room couch, hacking & coughing. I swear, I was a fat Camilla in the last scene of La Traviata. Must say, visiting with people you love, even though I felt like crap, was still, for me, a delight. So all in all, it was a fantastic week. Uh... maybe not so great for those who got to listen to me coughing up my lungs and watching the sodden tissue pile up around me like a gentle winter's snow fall.
Still a couple of outings were had. Yesterday, Thursday, I went along when my v. sweet niece-in-law Nicole picked up my sister Dolores and drove us to the outskirts of DC to visit Dolores' life long friend Beegee & her kin. Dolores & Beegee have been BFF since they were knee high to whatever it is you have to be knee high to in Brooklyn.

Got no outstanding shots in Annapolis, but I love this drive-by shot
for the scarlet tree with the Historic Annapolis sign on the right
Today, Nicole decided to drive Sydney, James and myself out for an airing. She took us to a locale of much history - Annapolis Maryland. It was a lovely drive and we took a nice walk there over to the harbor. The first surprise was I'd forgotten that Annapolis' connection to Alex Haley and his famous book, Roots. There, by the port where Kunte Kinte set foot in North America, was a statue of Haley reading to children.
Of course, if he's reading portions of Roots to those tender little minds, there will be nightmares
James, Sydney & Nicole
James hitched a ride
A view across Annapolis harbor
We passed by a small corner of the U.S. Naval Academy
The architecture and colors on Annapolis' Main St. remind me of Ireland
Beautiful brick paved streets, plenty of shopping in Annapolis - if only I'd had the energy!
So, all in all, it was a beautiful day today, even if my tail was kind of dragging on the walk around the beautiful streets of Annapolis. Oh well; my tail may have dragged, but at least it was wagging.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Girlie Cousin's Weekend at an End

Carol, Idea, Wanda, Jacqueline, Yvonne, Donna, Rhonda, Dolores and Bea
Our Girlie Cousin's weekend is at an end. We all got together for the continental breakfast (meaning we faced enough food to feed an average sized continent). We took advantage of this very-nearly-the last meetup of the weekend to exchange phone numbers, addresses and take new photos to stuff on our smart phones. I say it was v. nearly the last meet up because those who were so inclined went on a mini shopping spree post breakfast.

Great Group Selfie by Ideaa
My favorite shot of our weekend together
Our Cousin's Reunion was over way to soon. I'm looking forward to our entire Family getting together for a reunion in 2014 - see you there Cousins!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Visiting DC

Saturday morning, the contingency of girlie Carter cousins were off into the tunnels of the Hilton.
There, with the help of our younger & geekier cousins, train passes were purchased from the big confusing automatic machines. Soon we were off on a train headed for downtown Washington DC.

Down, down, down into the subterranean 
Once in DC we were onto one of the local bus tours that allows passengers on and off privileges.
Settled in on a Tour Bus of DC
Look Familiar? It's where great men & women go to nap.
Hum... I know I've seen this on a nickle...
The Washington Monument is getting a little work done.
Our first stop of the day was to pay our respects at the year old Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Standing tall with Dr. King.

When we had taken enough photos to fill the Capital Mall, we were back on the tour bus, headed for our next stop - The Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

One of the gems of the Smithsonian Museums

By this time breakfast seemed as if it was days ago, so we started off our Smithsonian visit with lunch at its cafeteria. Once filled and feeling more human, we raced off to view the Inaugural gowns of all the first ladies of the United States - gowns from the 18th through the 21st Century. Here are my personal favorites. Please pardon the glass reflections.

Mary Todd Lincoln's plush purple velvet gown believed
made by her friend, African-American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly
A blue satin flapper's styled gown, worn by Grace Coolidge
Beautiful yellow silk gown worn by Jackie O., but not at an inaugurate.
 And here is the most recent inauguration gown, worn, of course, by Michelle Obama.

Michelle's Jason Wu Gown
 By the time my cousins and I were out of the Smithsonian, we were whipped! We re-boarded a tour bus and headed back downtown. We were soon within a block of something I'd had my thoughts on since we arrived in DC - getting a chance to visit Ford's Theater and the Peterson House. I begged my cousins to hang tight while I ran into Ford's Theater to soak up a few minutes history and to get my first National Park Passport stamps for the Washington DC area. OH JOY!

We weren't quite finished... Rhonda had her heart set on visiting Madame Trusseau's Wax Museum. We futzed and fumbled outside the museum, then thought, 'what the heck!'. Soon we were rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.

Mr. Lincoln wondering how 'Our American Cousins' got up in the box with him
Idea and Dolores feeling a bit frisky with Mr. Freeman

Carol in good company with Samuel

Cousin Donna and Will Smith seem
a tad too chummy, don't they?
Whew! I was pretty tired by the time we got back to the Hilton. We rested up a bit, but we were, believe it or not, not quite done for the day. Around 6 PM all the girlie cousins were chauffeured by our Cousin Jackie and her husband, to their lovely Chevy Chase Home.

Let me tell you, Cousin Jackie outdid herself in preparing a dinner for all of her cousins. The meal was Caribbean in theme and quite drool worthy. Following the awesome feast, we settled into puzzling over where we might hold a Carter Family Reunion in 2014. The final local options were a bit of a surprise for me, as I visited the first two for the first time, only last spring.

  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Other possibility: Island local such as Bermuda or Barbados
Which site will be the venue of our reunion depends on what our honored elders have to say on the matter. Myself, I casting my hopes on either Savannah or, if the elders are up to it, a Caribbean adventure. 

Donna, Yvonne, Rhonda and one of my hairier smaller cousins
By the time we were all chauffeured back to the Hilton at night's end, we were all sated, happy and a little tired. I haven't had such a cousin filled day since the days before my family left New York City in 1967.