Please, if you get a chance, contact your representative in D.C.

If you get a chance, please…send a note to your representatives in Congress regarding the new GOP proposed “replacement” for Obamacare. Specific contact info is below.

Children with Type-1 diabetes, like our Alex, LITERALLY have a life expectancy that correlates with the level of care and blood sugar control. This new bill? It includes $600 billion in tax cuts, giving the richest 0.1% an average of $195,000 a year. It CUTS coverage for the poor, and eliminates many of the protections for those with chronic illness that Obamacare provides. It cuts health care access for kids like our Alex, kids whose very LIVES depend upon quality care.  As this story from several weeks ago notes, the very LIVES of these children are at stake.

Don’t let a person’s ability to pay be the prime determinant of your access to health care. Don’t let them get away with cutting health care access, JUST TO FUND TAX CUTS FOR THE RICHEST OF AMERICANS. Here are the places to go to contact your Congressional reps (for my Nebraska and South Dakota friends)…for others, please look up contact info for your state’s representatives.

Senator Ben Sasse (Neb) –https://www.sasse.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-ben

Senator Deb Fischer (Neb) – http://www.fischer.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact

Senator John Thune (S.Dakota) – https://www.thune.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact

Senator Mike Rounds (S.Dakota) – https://www.rounds.senate.gov/contact/email-mike

Representative Kristi Noem (S.Dakota) – http://noem.house.gov/index.cfm/email-kristi

Representative Jeff Fortenberry (Nebraska) – https://fortenberry.house.gov/contact

A “Devil Wear’s Prada” kind of world…

The Devil Wears Prada

“Andrea” and “Miranda” interacting in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada”. For this blog post, I’ll be playing the role of Andrea…

In the movie “The Devil Wears Prada“, Meryl Streep plays the role of Miranda Priestly, an icon in the fashion industry who is editor of Runway magazine. Anne Hathaway plays Andrea Sachs, a young journalism graduate looking for employment in a very competitive environment.  Andrea ends up taking one of the few jobs available, as a personal assistant to Meryl Streep’s character Miranda.  Andrea knows nothing about fashion, and for much of the movie, is openly skeptical and dismissive of the importance those around her place on fashion.  At one stage, Miranda, tiring of Andrea’s lack of fashion awareness, gives the “Cerulean Sweater Speech”, poking fun at Andrea’s dowdy cerulean sweater she had on, while at the same time providing a backstory on the fashion industry and the role it played in making that color of sweater fashionable. Andrea eventually learns to “play the game”, becomes fashion literate herself, and begrudgingly accepts the importance of the fashion industry, before leaving and finding a real journalism job.

I enjoy that movie.  Meryl Streep is, as always, fantastic in her role. But it’s the part of Andrea that I can really relate to, a young person just entering the “real” world, someone who is baffled at what those around here deem to be important in life.  I must say, I myself am constantly baffled at those around me in a very similar “fashion” (ha-ha), as I wonder about what people focus on as “important”.  For example…

We are a few days from the end of the Obama era.  Newspapers are printing a rash of stories about the legacy of Barack Obama, and what it’s meant for America.  The New Yorker posted a piece on his last speech, and the importance of Obama’s definition of what America “should be”.  GQ wrote a piece stating Obama will go down as one of the greatest Presidents in American history, with a heavy focus on his character as a defining feature.  New  York Magazine published a compilation piece, gathering the thoughts of 53 historians to weigh in on their view of Barack Obama’s legacy, with the focus of those views ranging from the impacts of Obamacare to his attempts to change overall political discourse. Countless other pieces have been written, focusing on his legacy in bringing health care to the forefront of the American consciousness, the major shifts in foreign policy such as opening up relations with Cuba, or his relationship with Congress and inability to reduce partisanship, despite his best intentions.

There have also been some wonderful tributes to Michelle Obama, with various stories focusing on her legacy of promoting healthy lifestyles, her overall legacy and how it was shaped by her personality, or her uncanny ability to relate to everyday Americans. She has been celebrated in a way few other First Ladies have been celebrated, and her upcoming departure has been met with both celebration of her accomplishments, and with tears.  But even a woman as revered as respected as much as Michelle Obama is subject to the same biases faced by all women in the United States.  One of her lasting “legacies” is based on her external appearance and how she presents herself.

The New York Times posted a piece this weekend entitled “What Michelle Obama Wore and Why it Mattered“. Here’s where I put on my “Andrea” hat, as a person who discounts the role of fashion as being an important social institution.  I “get” the interest in what she wears. I obviously get why Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, InStyle, and other fashion/women’s magazines have provided summaries of Michelle Obama’s clothing choices over the years.  I’m not bashing the fashion industry, or people who are interested in it.  A fascination with Michelle Obama’s fashion is on par with, oh, some guy’s fascination with birds and birding. I’d never poke fun at what makes people “tick”, what gets them excited.  However, as somebody who loves birds and birding, I’d also never judge another human being based on how good of a birder they are.  Far too often, however, women in general are judged based on appearance, clothing, or behavior rather than accomplishments. The same types of articles that appear in fashion magazines also show up not only in the New York Times, but also the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and other mainstream news organizations. How many similar stories have been written about Barack Obama’s clothing choices over the years?  How many stories have ever been written about ANY (male, of course) President’s choice of clothing?  Other than the rare puff piece such as the takedown of Barack Obama’s tendency to wear “dad jeans, the answer is like somewhere between “zero” and the number of fingers on one hand. Men and women are simply judged differently.

Serena Williams has dominated women’s tennis for many years and is one of the greatest female athletes in history, yet rather than focusing on her remarkable accomplishments, she has often been subject to “body-shaming” and criticism over her appearance, and even was recently called “a hooker” for a basic Sports Illustrated cover where she (gasp!) dared to show her legs. After Hillary Clinton lost the election, stories popped up about her (gasp!) make-up free appearance, with other stories during the campaign discussed her clothing and appearance and the impacts on her “likeability”. Oprah Winfrey is constantly analyzed for her weight (as are many women). Actresses like Renee Zellweger are expected to maintain a youthful, “sexy” appearance, yet are subject to exhaustive speculation and questions of “did she or didn’t she” with regard to elective surgery to try to maintain that appearance. It’s obviously not just outward appearance that dictates how a woman is (unfairly) judged, it’s demeanor as well.  During the campaign, Hillary Clinton was first criticized for not smiling enough, and then criticized for over compensating and smiling too much. Women seem to necessarily walk a tightrope between acting aggressively and confident and being called “a bitch”, and acting more passively and be dismissed as a “ditz”.  Women are often expected to display a moderate amount of sexuality, but if they go “too far” and they are labeled as bimbos and sluts. It’s often a no-win situation, where your actions and accomplishments mean very little compared to your appearance and demeanor.

When I see a statement in a story such as the New York Times piece that “clothing played a role unlike any it had ever played before in a presidential administration”, I immediately go into Andrea Sachs mode, and scoff at the ridiculousness of such an assertion. When I see a piece from a respected news organization like the New York Times that tries to convince me that what Michelle Obama wore “mattered”, all I see is a perpetuation of the same unfair criteria of how women are judged compared to men.

The one aspect of The Devil Wears Prada that was disconcerting was when Andrea began to become assimilated into the culture and world of Miranda Priestly.  She started to “walk the walk” in order to fit in and keep her job at Runway. That part of the movie perhaps hit a little too close to home, as it so perfectly depicted the lengths women have to go to, to fit in and be accepted in a world that judges them solely by appearance and behavior.  By the end of the movie, Andrea recognizes what’s TRULY important in life, ditches Runway and Miranda Priestly, and accepts a much less glamorous job as a entry-level journalist.  As a society, we’re at that same stage in our evolution. Particularly at a time when a misogynistic pig of a man is about to assume the role of the President, It’s time to ditch this “Runway” world, and start to judge women (and all human beings) based on factors other than appearance or behavior. Sorry, New York Times, I just don’t buy the premise of your story.

 

Fall Sparrows

Le Conte's Sparrow - Ammodramus leconteii

The elusive Le Conte’s Sparrow, a species that’s often difficult to see, given their preference for dense vegetation. It’s always great to get a good look at one, much less get a clear, unobstructed photo like this.

What a beautiful time of year in South Dakota!  Yes, with leaves falling off trees, days very rapidly getting shorter, and temperatures falling, another South Dakota winter is imminent. Yes,the vast majority of insect-eating migrant birds have already passed through the state, not to be seen again until April or May.  Yes, species diversity will continue to fall from the summer and fall migration peak, to the typical winter “diversity” where anything other than a Dark-eyed Junco at your feeders is a treat.

However, one very welcome birding feature at this time of year are migrant sparrows.  There are species moving through right now that are rarely seen at any other time of year.  What’s really nice is how multiple species often mingle together.  I went birding one morning this weekend, and while it wasn’t a great trip overall, the trip was saved by one non-descript, overgrown, weedy field south of Tea, South Dakota. It’s a spot that’s been used as some kind of staging ground for road construction in the past.  Small piles of sand and gravel are scattered about, as are some smaller piles of rock and concrete chunks.  The feature that attracts the sparrows, however, is the weedy overgrowth that covers the entire area.  Just sitting in one location, I was able to find 7 different sparrow species.  Song Sparrows seemed to be the most common species, with Lincoln’s Sparrows not far behind.  There were also quite a few Harris’s Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Savannah Sparrows in and around this spot, as well as a handful of Clay-colored Sparrows.

Harris's Sparrow - Zonotrichia querula

Another one of my favorites, a Harris’s Sparrows. These big chunky sparrows always stand out from the crowd, not only by size, but by their unique plumage.

The highlight though were several beautifully plumaged Le Conte’s Sparrows.  Le Conte’s Sparrows are always such a treat to find.  In southeastern South Dakota, about the only time I see them is during fall migration. They are a highly sought species for many birders, although I think they’re actually not all that uncommon in migration in eastern South Dakota.  They do have a tendency to hang out in dense vegetation, however, making a good sighting something to be treasured.  I was fortunate to not only get some great, unobstructed views of Le Conte’s Sparrows this weekend, but also get some of the best photos I’ve ever gotten of the species.

A nice fall day of “sparrowing”!

Lincoln's Sparrow - Melospiza lincolniiSong Sparrow - Melospiza melodia

A new member for the famed Pantheon of Goggle-wearers?

Famous Goggle People

An artist’s rendition of my new look, sporting goggle-type eyewear, along with famed members of the GPGW…Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Phelps, and “Gordon” from the movie “Dodgeball”.

Sjogren’s Syndrome sucks.  There’s no getting around that fact.  Been diagnosed about 3 years, with various fun symptoms, but the crappiest one by far are my eyes.  Sjogren’s is an autoimmune disease, which among other things, attacks moisture-secreting glands for your eyes and mouth. Dry eye, dry mouth, fatigue, joint pain and other fun things are symptoms.  My eyes have been god-awful lately, so dry that as the day goes on I have a hard time seeing.  Saw my dr. today, and among other things, he said I really should get protective eyewear that holds in moisture and prevents air circulation around my eyes.

Goggle Time!!  OK, perhaps not goggles themselves, but something similar that seals in your eyes.  I am about to join the Great Pantheon of Goggle Wearers (That’s the GPGW to you).  GPGW inductees must meet two conditions: 1) They must wear goggle-type eyewear a significant portion of the time, and 2) they must be famous.  It certainly looks like I’ll be meeting condition #1 very soon.  As for condition #2?  The very fact that you are reading this blog must mean I’m famous, right?

I certainly expect the inductee paperwork to arrive soon after I don my goggles.  I can hardly wait to join the ranks of these fine, famed folk.

Now available – Free 2016 Bird Calendar

Free 2016 Bird Calendar - South Dakota Birds and Birding

February 2016’s featured bird, the Northern Saw-whet Owl. Click the link to individually download printable calendar pages for the coming 2016 year.

As I always do about this time of year, I put together a free, downloadable and printable bird calendar for the coming year.  As a long-time South Dakota “tradition”, the calendar of course features the Great Kiskadee for the month of December (in honor of the one freakishly lost bird that is still around!). You can access the calendar here:

Free 2016 Bird Calendar

Holy $hit!! An honest-to-goodness Trogon!

Photo of Elegant Trogon

Serendipity strikes! This gorgeous Elegant Trogon flew in like a dream and landed right in front of me this morning, while birding at Florida Canyon south of Tuscon, Arizona.

Better lucky than good!!  I had a work trip to Tucson, one of my favorite places on earth to bird, so I took a couple extra days of personal time to bird. I had a number of “target” species I wanted to try and find (and photograph). This wasn’t one of them.

Elegant Trogons are dang tough to see in the U.S. They’re only found in a few spots in far southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.  In November though?  Nearly all Trogons move south for the winter, so you’re not likely to find one this time of year.  I started birding this morning in “Florida Canyon”, a place I’d checked out through eBird.  Painted Redstarts, Hepatic Tanager, and several other “new” species to me had been seen there recently, henc my decision to start there.

Florida Canyon certainly didn’t disappoint!  I saw a gorgeous Painted Redstart right away, and later, a male and female Hepatic Tanager.   It was very “birdy”, but I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened next.  As I was watching a tree seemingly filled with Hutton’s Vireo and other birds, this very big, brilliantly colored bird came flying in. My first thought as it came in over my head…Magpie, as it was the big long tail in flight that reminded me of a Magpie. But this certainly wasn’t a magpie!!  There in front of me was an absolutely brilliant Elegant Trogon!

Over the course of the next half hour, I watched and photographed the Trogon, with it making a couple of short flights and changing perches in that time. Getting a clean shot was a challenge, but I finally did find a good vantage point.

Great morning!  One of my biggest thrills as a birder!

Just some yard critters

Burrowing Wasp

A large wasp, busy digging a hole in the mulch and dirt by my flowers. He would disappear into the hole every few seconds and come out carrying a bit of mulch, such as that in his jaws in this photo.

There are unconfirmed reports that I DO have new bird photos.  That’s right…actually photographs of feathered creatures, ala the old days when such a thing was commonplace.  I haven’t processed those photos yet though, so here’s a few photos from yesterday, just poking around the yard.

I have yet to ever be stung by a wasp or a bee. Not in my entire life.  I think I’m pushing my luck.  The wasp was a very large one, at least an inch and a half long, who was busy digging a hole in the mulch and dirt by the honeysuckle by our front door.  He wasn’t exactly thrilled that I was trying to shoot photos of him.  I sat on the front step and at first he would buzz up from the hole and fly around me a bit.  But as I sat there he seemed to get used to me.  He would disappear into the hole for a second or two and come out with a piece of dirt or mulch, so my strategy was to move ever so slightly closer to him every time he went in the hole.  It seemed to work!  Before I knew it I was within about a foot of him (the distance you have to be with the macro lens to get a shot like this).  I have no idea how aggressive this wasp species actually is, and how likely it is that it would (or could) sting you, but I figure it’s only a matter of time before I come across one that’s not so camera friendly.

The dragonfly was another nice one to get.  I haven’t gotten many photos of dragonflies yet with my macro lens.  They seem just a bit too skittish to get close enough to.  Just like with birds though there always seems to be an exception to the rule.  With some bird species, they all just seem too skittish to photograph, but then you run across the one cooperative individual who seems to break the rules.  This dragonfly was certainly as cooperative as could be, letting me snap away at close range as much as I wanted.

Some day soon, some actual new bird photos will be posted here!  I promise!  For now, click on any photo for a larger view.

DragonflyDragonfly

 

New Macro Photo Page

Feather - Birds have these

A tiny feather I saw stuck on a tree branch this morning. I hear “birds” have feathers. Might want to try photographing one someday. It’s kind of telling the mode I’m in right now, when I got out with a goal of actually shooting birds, yet in my macro-mania, I instead come back with a macro photo of a bird feather.

I went out with my 400mm lens today.  Truly, truly I did.  Truly, truly I meant to photograph a bird, and break free of my recent macro obsession.

In fact, I DID take a photo of a bird.  A small Empidonax flycatcher of undetermined species.  There aren’t many bird species I can’t immediately ID by sight, but these guys are.  I thought it was kind of fitting that while I’m in my bird photo rut, the one nice bird photo I got today was of the one group of birds I have a hard time ID’ing.

I did get a lot more macro photos though!  I’m rapidly filling up my hard drive with unprocessed macro photos. They now sit there alongside all my bezillion bird photos that sit on my hard drive, longing for the day when they’ll see the light of day.  To facilitate the processing of the macro photos though, I did finally set up an official macro photo page on my main website.  You can access it here:

 

Macro Photo Gallery

 

Eegads!! Feathers and Folly hacked!! A new blog…

ACK!  My old blog, “Feathers and Folly”, was hacked!  I started receiving notices from Google that my overall site had been hacked, but I had no idea what the issue was. I brought up all my web pages, and they looked normal.  It wasn’t until I went onto a Google Forum and asked for help that someone pointed out the problem.

When you looked at my old pages, they seemed fine, just how I wanted them to look.  But some searches involving my site on Google including some pretty awful stuff, links that would redirect you from my site to other, pretty nefarious sites.

I’m looking at this as an opportunity to start fresh!  Given that I didn’t update my old blog very often, I’m starting anew.  I deleted all “Feathers and Folly” material and this will be the new companion blog to South Dakota Birds and Birding. With a fresh start, I hope to post more often, including the following:

  • Recent birding trips and photos
  • Photo stories, describing the experience of getting a specific photo
  • “In the News”, news stories involving birds and birding
  • Conservation issues, involving news or related material about conservation of habitats and the creatures that live in them.
  • Science/Research, highlighting new research in ornithology and related topics.

Check back soon and I hope to keep the NEW South Dakota Birds Blog updated frequently!!

%d bloggers like this: