Tuesday, September 29, 2009

" 'This is Our Baby, We're So Freaking Tired' is not an acceptable message"

Henry, 7lb 13oz, born 9/24/09...more info to come!
The title of this post comes from a gem of an email sent to me from some site called "The Baby Center, LLC." I do appreciate the site, and the emails, because they appear to be written by folks (primarily) women under the age of 75, and the helpful tips (and what not) are phrased in ways to make it a little more comforting - the chic term is now "more accessible" to young parents. So, here's what they had to say about baby announcements:
What to put on a birth announcement:
• The birth date.
• The baby's weight.
• The baby's "length." (Yes, this is the same as "height." No, we don't know why it's called "length.")
• Chocolaty smudges from the three full-size candy bars you ate while you were sitting on your little doughnut pillow thingy and addressing envelopes.
• Your own weight is not a conventional addition. Nor is the number of nursing pads you've soaked through in one day, the number of meconium poops the baby had, or the measurement of her fossilized belly-button stump.
• "This is our baby. We're so freaking tired." is not an acceptable message. Be sure to include one or all of the following words: "joy," "blessing," and "miracle."
Their full-length, more informative article on the topic can be found here.
And since I'm quoting so liberally from their information - here's a good summary of what Baby Center (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) is all about:
BabyCenter, the Web's #1 global interactive parenting network, has nurtured more than 100 million parents since its launch in 1997. Our purpose is to support parents through their journey of parenthood with a blend of expert advice and user-created wisdom.
In the U.S., BabyCenter reaches over 78% of new and expectant moms online and has garnered numerous
prestigious awards, including six Webby Awards. In March 2007, BabyCenter captured the #7 spot on Advertising Age's "Digital A-List" and has been a featured expert on NBC's "Today" show and ABC's Good Morning America.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tricking Murphy - Paddling & Fishing on the Most Unlikely of Days

End of the line - entering the riffles and bars on the Jones Falls
So, as some of you may have noted from the 3D Baby Widget, we are expecting a baby...well...yesterday. The doctors believe he's a biggun, so they will be inducing sometime during the next several days. This is a cause for quite a bit of anxiety at our house, and the little guy is showing only minor interest in out-of-womb residence, so I thought, "Maybe I can make Murphy's Law work FOR me." I took the day off of work and decided to go kayak fishing - out of cell phone range - with a baby who could decide to come, literally, at any time. Perhaps then, my wife would go into labor sooner rather than later, and we could get on with the child-rearing (which we are very excited about). This "waiting" crap is for the birds.
So, I selected my most local spot - the 80 acre (or so) abandoned reservoir near our house. As I've written about previously, the fish habitat at this spot is highly compromised due to pollution, sediment, carp, and rampant poaching by Americans and immigrants alike. It is an urban American lake whose shorelines have returned to forest. Downstream (Jones Falls) is highly polluted by roadway runoff and sewage contamination (although rumors exist that smallmouth bass do exist along the 10 mile reach between the Lake and the Falls' mouth at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Upstream of the Lake (and into the old English Land Grant farms from the 1700s), some pollution does exist (fertilizer, manure, road runoff), but according to Trout Unlimited, self-sustaining populations of brown trout and brook trout exist....less than 15 miles from downtown Baltimore. Who'd a thunk it?
Consider me a skeptic. I've been fishing the Lake (and the tailwaters below the dam) for about 7 years. I have had some fun days, landing 40, 50 or more panfish, catfish, carp, etc. and seeing some amazing wildlife (like the first and only time I saw a Baltimore Oriole). I rarely get skunked at the lake, but I had never caught a bass at the Lake before now. In fact, on this blog, I had theorized why the Lake was not sustainable bass habitat (carp and pollution, primarily).
To make matters significantly worse, the City of Baltimore (geniuses that they are) DRAINED THE LAKE to clean woody debris off of the dam....IN FEBRUARY (2009) (I believe their though was that no one visits the lake in the winter, so they would receive fewer annoying phone calls from visitors). In what was a surprise ONLY to Baltimore City DPW, the over-wintering fish became highly stressed and a early spring fish kill resulted. As a result, fishing on the Lake has been miserable in 2009. So imagine my surprise when I was casting an extra-long gold, yellow, and black rooster tail against a cliff in the lake (where I caught my first fish from a kayak, ever, in 2006), and landed this 10" largemouth (who looks like a smallmouth). Amazing catch? No....but given the circumstances, I was amazed that he was alive, healthy, and in the Lake at all!

After 7 years of fishing this urban lake...my first largemouth.
He was caught along a rock drop-off below some overhanging branches in dappled sunlight. I continued to paddle upstream, hoping to find the "navigable" limit at the dam's current capacity. I found it, and there were very few fish up there, but it was nice to have to think through some kayaking "problems" with submerged wood in riffles, overhangs, sandbars, etc. On my way back down, I stopped at another area in the Lake closer to the dam, targeting a group of several sunken trees with a steep dropoff and overhanging branches. I was getting hung up on every other cast, but I was also catching some decent size panfish, so it was all good. At one point, I was working the lure very closely along a sunken tree and hooked up with this guy:

Not a monster....but nice to see he's healthy & happy in our local Lake!
As the sun worked its way up into the middle of the sky, I figured it might be time to get out into the open lake and try to get cell service....I did...and no calls! I made the decision to pack it in and go home and help out the wifey...since her wait for the baby is far more tedious and anxious than mine!

The new ride: 2010 Tacoma Crew Cab, TRD Sport, Long Bed, Off-Road (ignore my cheesy tires) & Tow Packages.
The major, ironic difference from my old Tacoma......this is also compatible with a baby seat.
This is my last child-free post!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fall Plantings

Well, it's that time of year, and with the baby on the way I knew I'd have to get my fall plantings in early. I'm almost done! Here's what's in store for winter/spring 09-10:
Cover Crop (2 plots): generic white clover

Spinach, Double Choice Hybrid
Radish, Cherry Bomb Hybrid II
Giant Crocus:

Flower Record (dark purple)
Jeanne d'Arc (white)
Vanguard (purple+lavender)
Snow Crocus:

Blue Pearl

Golden Oxford (late yellow-mass planting!)
Bleu Aimable (late purple)

Money Maker (yellow+white center)

Giant Allium
Italian Arum

Mystery Bird Revealed? Northern Parula

Proper photo of a living Northern Parula in Central Park (NYC) by photographer David Speiser. Please visit his wonderful site.
So thanks to Swamp4Me and her trusty companion Treebeard, I think I have a valid identification of my mystery dead bird - the Northern Parula. Which is a warbler, and not a flycatcher at all.
So what is this little guy all about, and how did he end up in my yard? Well, the Baltimore Bird List shows that the Northern Parula is a common spring and fall migrant in central Maryland, and uncommon or unknown the rest of the year. USGS reports that it's a small bird "even for a warbler" and (my interpretation) that its feeding habits are very similar to those of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - perhaps a case of convergent evolution, as both are very active, insectivorous birds around 4" in length, whose preferred summer habitat is wet coniferous woods and other Canadian wetland habitats. Unlike the Flycatcher, the Parula becomes widespread during its migration, instead of sticking to a specific route north or south. In this way, I guess you could say it's like many of the northern grassland birds, which suddenly become common in the Mid-Atlantic states in September, leave us in October, and return between late February and mid-April, only to leave again by early May. Also unlike the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, the Parula winters from Florida and the Carribean to northern Central America, while the Flycatcher flies much farther south.
So what was he doing in my yard? Probably chasing the thousands of flies, mosquitos, and spiders that live amongst the vines, shrubs, and trees. Hopefully several more will stop by this fall, and not suffer the same fate!
So there you have it....Northern Parula.

Mystery Flycatcher

RIP, mystery flycatcher
Well, inbetween awaiting our baby's grande entrada (sometime in the next week), getting adjusted to my first job in "managing" instead of "doing" wildlife habitat restoration, and working on two pretty substantial blog posts (one on environmental truth-in-advertising and the other, a review of three natural history books I read this summer about 3 different regions (Delmarva, Manhattan, and Appalachia), I have still managed to do a little gardening (another forthcoming post). When I went out to plant radishes and spinach yesterday (and of course, the squirrels are eagerly hunting down the seeds already this morning), I saw this fella, dead on our deck. We have small windows, but I'm not sure if he cracked himself into the window, or died of another cause.

I'm pretty certain that he is a flycatcher (note the slender, orange lower beak) and I think he's a newly molted yellow-bellied flycatcher (please send this post to any birder friends for assistance!). His description doesn't seem to match Least Flycatcher or Acadian Flycatcher at all, and certainly not Baltimore's only common flycatcher - the Alder Flycatcher. However, this identification poses an interesting ornithological problem, as the Baltimore Bird Club ranks the Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher as an "accidental" spring migrant and a "rare" fall migrant, with the birds totally absent (none on record) in the wintering and breeding seasons.
The USGS "bird lab" at NPWRC states that the yellow belly's summer habitat is "low, wet areas within coniferous forest" as far south as northern Minnesota and Northeastern Pennsylvania. It's wintering habitat? Yeah...COFFEE PLANTATIONS and similar shrubby habitats with lots of insects.
So let me describe to you our little urban hipster hamlet and perhaps someone can help me figure out why this little guy ended up here..dead. We live in a 1940s neighborhood with fair tree cover (35-50%), almost entirely hardwoods (maple, oak, mulberry) with occasional planted evergreens that do well in our briefly harsh winters, notably Blue Spruce and Norway Spruce. We have a stream (and streamside park) one block away, with large hardwoods (oaks, maples, sycamore) growing 100'+ (most years we have small numbers of nesting ducks and LOTS of raptors.
One thing we do have, that might lend itself to a stopover by a flycatcher, is BATS. We have no shortage of mosquitos, flies, or wasps, so there are ample flying insects available for food. Our yard has a little pond, and the spiders and frogs consider the pond to be a nice place to hang out and get fat.
But still? How did this guy end up here? And do I have the ID wrong?

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...