Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Protect your identity" Right!

We are told that we should never give out our Social Security Number. Have you ever tried to fill out any form without it having a place for that number? Every time I go to a new doctor. Every time I apply for a credit card. Whenever you fill out anything for a state government or the Federal Government. Try applying for a job without having to give out your number!

I'm not stupid about it like the CEO of LifeLock who published his Social Security Number in their ads - and has had his identity stolen a number of times. But if I have to show my Social Security Number to get something I need, I do it. It reminds me of the time I was going to be traveling in foreign countries for work. I was warned to never let anyone take my passport. Then, every hotel I stayed in wanted to keep it the first night. They'd give it back to me in the morning.  I wonder if my passport was copied or used by the wrong people? I suppose I'll never know.

It just makes you wonder about other things we were told to never do. Maybe it's OK to not look before you leap. Maybe we don't really have to lather, rinse and repeat.  Good grief - maybe we can even end a sentence with a preposition!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Titmouse pictures

My back is still giving me trouble and I find it hard to concentrate. When I do have time to write in this blog, my mind is worn out. So, this post is simply some old pictures. Seeing the young Tufted Titmouse in our bird banding visit made me think of these old pictures.

I took these pictures a few years ago (2007 and 2008). The top one was taken in June, 2007. I was able to take these pictures when the woods were closer to the path. I was able to sneak up on the birds and get closer pictures back then. But in 2009, the path was widened by a machine that was hired by the town to clear a fire break through the forest. The posts about that are "Disappearing forest", "Disappearing forest mystery solved" and "The return of the Tree Muncher". Now, the tall trees are much further from the path and it is harder to get close pictures of birds.

The second picture was taken in April, 2008. This bird was more stealthy but you can see that I was able to get a little closer. That bright, shining eye just can;t be hidden. So, even though I was closer than he would like, I was able to creep up on him because the forest was more dense. I liked it better back then. It felt more like you were out in the wild then. But nothing can stay the same can it?

As with all of my pictures, just click on these images and you'll see a larger version.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A short note about back pain

Sometimes I think my back is feeling better. Then other times, I think my back feels as bad as it did when I first pulled it. Now I think I've figured it out.

Since I hurt my back two weeks ago, I've just been learning how to keep my body in a position so that my back doesn't hurt. When I forget to do that, the pain returns. That's why my back hurts more in the morning - I've been sleeping and couldn't keep my body in the non-pain position. It just takes me a while to position myself the right way so that it doesn't hurt.

I have a physical coming up next week. They are going to hear all about my theories.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Oh, my back"

I'm finally feeling a little better after hurting my back five days ago. I was walking our dog Charlie and I simply bent down and turned slightly and that's all it took. I felt a sharp pain and quickly straightened up. I probably moved too fast in reacting but I don't know if that made it worse or not. Fortunately, I was almost home but with every step I took, it got worse. I had a hard time getting into the house and taking my shoes off. I knew I wouldn't be going to work that day (it was Monday) so I sent an email to work letting them know. I figured I'd work from home but that turned out to be wrong.

I was able to get a doctor's appointment that afternoon and they ruled out anything serious because my legs were fine and I could feel my toes and fingers and felt no tingling. They prescribed a few drugs: 1) a steroid to speed up healing, 2) a muscle relaxant to stop muscle spasms from making things worse and 3) a pain pill for the big baby who isn't used to this sort of thing. The pills helped but so did an ice pack. I had mistakenly used a heating pad but I was told that was a mistake. "Ice, ice, ice," said the nurse practitioner who treated me, "A heating pad just draws blood to the region and makes it worse."

Well, I ended up being out of work for three days and the two days I went in (Thursday and Friday) were not the highlights of my life. I had hoped to get some work done at home but I couldn't concentrate (partly from the discomfort in my back and partly from the drugs) so I was falling behind. As I've mentioned before, one of those sad facts of life is that you can never really take time off from work. You just borrow time from work. That goes for vacation time or sick time. When you're not working, the job isn't getting done by someone else. It just sits there and it gets later and later. So, when you finally do get back to the work, you have to work extra hard to finish it and get caught up. I was able to get a lot done in the two days I worked but I'm still behind.

I finally took Charlie for a walk this morning but did no bending when I needed to clean up after him. I gently lowered myself by kneeling, scooped up what needed scooping, put it in the bag and gently extended my legs again. I was sore when I got home but things are improving. I'm praying that I'll feel better on Monday when I try to finally get caught up on the project we're working on. Even though I borrowed three days of time from the project, I'm trusting it won't charge interest.

[Update - I didn't mean to imply that using heat on an aching body was bad. The nurse practitioner that I saw just said to not put heat on it for the first two days. She said, "Ice, ice, ice," for the first two days. Then heat is helpful after that. Anyway, this is not a medical blog and I am not a doctor. I'm just repeating the instructions that was given to me for my specific situation.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Band(ing) of Birds - part 2a

Yes, I'm getting a little ridiculous in naming this "part 2a". But this is a much smaller post and it is related to my previous post about the behind-the-scenes look at our trip to photograph the activities of the bird banding program at the Manomet Center for Conservation Studies. I mentioned their catching birds in mist nest but didn't show much about that.

These mist nets (there is a good article about mist nets in Wikipedia) are strung along paths in the forest. They are very delicate and almost invisible under many conditions. I lost count of how many we passed on our hike to collect birds but it seemed like the total length we passed must have been hundreds of feet These must be inspected every hour so the birds don't lie in them for too long. They are vulnerable to other birds and animals and, if left too long, could injure themselves trying to get loose. The nets are removed on rainy days and at night. That must take a long time as well as putting them up again.

The picture here shows the mist nets a little better in that you can see how it runs along the path. This is just one section of the many we passed on our walk. The young staff worker is specially trained to disentangle the bird without injuring it. The bird flies into the upper part of the net and then just falls into the lower part with is turned up to make a pouch. It's like a trapeze artist falling into a net. You can see that the staffer is holding something in her mouth as she works. That's the identification button for this particular net and she attached it to the bag that holds the bird. As soon as she put a bird in its individual bag, it quieted right down. Just as when you put a cover over a bird cage at night, this caused the bird to think it was time for sleep.

That's it for posts about the Manomet Center. I hope you've enjoyed them and learned a little. I sure did.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Band(ing) of Birds - part 2

In my previous post, "Band(ing) of Birds - part 1", I shared pictures I took at the Manomet Center for Conservation Studies. Manomet is a small village in the Town of Plymouth. This time I'm going to show some pictures of what went on behind the scenes. The first picture shows one of the magnificent views from the Center. On a clear day, which this was not, you an see all the way to Cape Cod. As with all of my pictures, just click on the picture to see it larger.

The next picture, on the left, shows the band that has been put on a Catbird. They explained that it isn't a simple as it looks ad a bird bander must be taught and certified. The band can't be too loose or it might fall off or irritate the bird by moving too much. And the band can't be too tight or it will hurt the bird or cut of circulation to the rest of that appendage. I wouldn't be the one needing to read the information on the band, either. There is an amazing amount of information on that small band.

The next picture show the hazards of working with the birds. This young Cardinal is making it known that he didn't appreciate being caught in the net and handled by a human. Many of the birds bite their handlers but the Cardinals are among those with the more powerful beaks and bites. We asked if they tried using gloves when handling the birds but the staff told us that they need to feel the birds so they know how tightly to hold them without hurting them. Gloves that are thick enough to offer protection take away that feeling. You'll be happy to know that neither the young woman nor the bird were hurt during this operation. Yes, she was bitten hard and it did draw blood but she said she was used to it and didn't get angry or even yell out. I would have been yelling so loudly all the birds in the forest would have cleared out.

The last picture shows some of the photographers gathered around a bird about to be released by the Director of Bird Banding, Trevor Lloyd-Evans. See how he is used to this and holds the bird out so we can get a picture of the bird and not him. He was quite an entertaining speaker and a very good teacher. You could tell he was used to being in a scholarly setting by his constantly throwing questions to us into his discussion. You can see my wife, Cindy, in the purple top, on the right of this picture.

We had a wonderful time. We saw things we'd never normally get to see and we learned a lot. We met some nice people and had wonderful time together. I'm so glad Cindy wanted to do this.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Band(ing) of Birds - part 1

My wife (who finds the most interesting things for us to do) signed us up with a group taking pictures at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and specifically at the bird banding program. You get to watch as the staff prepare to release the birds after they have been banded and also to accompany some of them as they retrieve the birds from the mist nets that are strung throughout the forest surrounding the center. It's quite an amazing place and I never knew it existed. In this post, I'll show pictures of the birds we saw. My next post will show some of the behind the scenes pictures.

The first bird, in the upper right picture, is a young Catbird. We saw more Catbirds that day than anything else. We also saw more young birds than anything else, too. It was explained to us how the birds learned where the nets were and were smart enough to stay out of them after a while.

The next bird, on the left side, is a young Tufted Titmouse. These are found around bird feeders all the time and they mostly stay through the winter. I have a nice picture of an adult Tufted Titmouse I took in the woods behind our office and I'll post that picture some other time. Notice that the crest you normally see on these birds isn't as prominent. That was one of the clues that this was a juvenile.

The next bird is a juvenile or female (they told us which but I forgot) Common Yellowthroat. A mature male Yellowthroat would have a dark mask over its eyes. You can start to see a pattern to how the birds are being held. One thing you should know is that just anyone should not try to hold a bird like this. People who handle birds like this must be specially trained and certified. Otherwise, the bird could be hurt or so badly stressed that it hurts itself. All of these birds, while not happy to be held like this, were safe and were later released unharmed. At no time were any of the photographers allowed to hold the birds. Only the trained staff held the birds while we snapped photos.

The next bird is a Red-eyed Vireo. Yes, once again, it's a juvenile. You can tell because the eyes are not really red. They are brown in this young guy. This bird was quite active and the handler had to keep shifting his grip to keep the bird safe yet visible to us. So, not being the best photographer, I wasn't able to stay in focus for long and this picture is the worst of the bunch. But it is challenges like this that make us better photographers.

The final bird in this post is our state bird, the Black-capped Chickadee. Named for its call, I love these little fellows. They are always so active and also stay around all winter. For all the Chickadees I've photographed over the years, this is the sharpest picture I've ever taken because it wasn't hopping around all over the place.

As I said before, my next post will show some behind the scenes photos as well as a bit more information about the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Using Charlie's leash again

I should have written this post last week but it's still a good story. In case you don't know, Charlie is our dog. The reason I couldn't use Charlie's leash for a long time was that it smelled like skunk. No, Charlie hadn't been sprayed. He just lent his leash to a dog that had been sprayed.

One evening last month, after our daughter had gone to bed and the rest of us were just sitting around watching TV, we heard voices outside. We often hear people talking as they walk by our house - especially in the summer. But these voices were louder than usual and quite animated. A few minutes later, our doorbell rang. That rarely happens, especially at night. We all jumped, including Charlie, who started barking, and my daughter who ran down the stairs to see what was going on. I answered the door and found two women on our porch. They asked if a dog they were pointing to was our dog. He was a beautiful, big Husky. But I could smell that he'd been sprayed by a skunk. He looked upset but not mean. The women said he was in the middle of our busy road and they'd almost hit him. When they got out to see what the problem was, he came into our yard as if he was familiar with it. I'd never seem him before, though, and I know almost all of the neighbor dogs from my walks with Charlie. The dog was very well behaved but you could see the smell was bothering him. He stayed still as I checked for a collar (there was none). As I talked with the women about what we might do, a young fellow walked up asking about the dog, too. He, too, had almost hit him and had tried to check for a collar, too. But every time the young man had tried to get the dog to come with him, the Husky would run off.

This nice young man had called the police who told him the dog should be taken to the animal control officer at the pound and he was trying to do that. But, again, every time he tried to get the dog in his car, the dog would run off. He asked if I could help. The dog seemed to like me (I assume he could smell Charlie on me - even through the skunk smell) and stayed around me (whew, what a smell). The only thing I could think of was to get Charlie's leash and use that to get the dog into the car. He was a big dog and the leash barely fit. Then it dawned on me - Who wants that smell in their car? Well, it turned out that the nice young man was willing to drive the Husky to the pound. So, he brought his car into our yard and I got the dog into his back seat. I almost hated to do it but I certainly didn't want the dog in our van. I warned him how tight the leash was and he said he would take it off as soon as the dog was safely in the pound. His last words as he left were that he'd drop the leash off after he was done with it. I thought I would need to be buying another leash. It would smell anyway. Who would want that thing?

The next morning as we left for church, I noticed Charlie's leash hanging on the door knob. What a nice guy! The dog pound was all the way across town and he'd driven all the way back to our place just to return the leash. There are some very nice people in the world - including the two young women who also helped in getting the Husky off the road and into a safe yard. The leash smelled horrible and I left it outside for a couple of weeks and was happy to have it rained on a few times. Finally, after about the third rain, I smelled the leash and it wasn't bad. I wonder how long it took that young man to get the smell out of his car? If ever.

[Update: I added this picture of Charlie and his leash. I tried to get him to hold it in his mouth for the picture but he refused. Maybe it stills smells, and tastes, a bit like skunk?]

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The first day of school

Why should I care that today was the first day of school for our town? My wife home schools our children. In some sense, they never have a "first day of school" because their schooling never really stops for the summer. So, the first day of our local, public school shouldn't be interesting to me but it is. That's because, as I mentioned in my posts "5,000 miles" and "The joy of taking back roads to work", I often get stuck behind school buses on my way into work. I have to take back roads because my scooter can only go about 40 - 45 miles per hour. So, I face the first day of school with about as much trepidation as some of the kids do. Not our kids but some other kids. This year I even went as far as looking through the bus schedules printed in our local paper a few weeks ago. But I couldn't figure out the method they used to show when a bus would be at a certain stop.

So, I'd planned to leave a little early this morning so I could try to get ahead of the buses. But I didn't want to be too early because I wanted to try to judge how early I really need to leave each morning. Who want to leave extra early if you don't have to? As I've said before, it's easy to say I'm going to leave five minutes early to get ahead of the buses but it's another thing to find those five minutes in a busy morning and do that every work day. I figured if I could get going a little early this morning (say, five minutes early), I might see kids gathering as the stops if I was just ahead of the buses but I'd see very few kids if I was really early. A wise person once said,
"It's easy to say I'm going to leave five minutes early to get ahead of the buses but it's another thing to find those five minutes in a busy morning."
Yeah, well, that's what happened this morning. It takes me about 25 minutes to get to work at 8 AM and I ended up leaving the house right at 7:35 AM. As I rode along, I wondered how bad it would be. Would the buses be even slower than last year? Would the kids be even slower getting on the bus this year? Would there be more stops this year? More buses?

Well, isn't life wonderful? I was ahead of the buses! I knew I was ahead of the buses because the brother and sister who catch the two buses that were my nemesis last year were both waiting in front of there house. I almost waved to them and cheered as I rode by. Then, a little further on, I saw the buses coming up the hill to turn around and pick up those children. Again, I almost waved and cheered but thought better of it. If I look too happy, the bus drivers may decide that they can find an extra five minutes in the morning to start their run.

Surely they were running on time this morning. Surely they weren't running a little late because, maybe, they are new drivers and weren't sure of the route. Surely the buses weren't hard to start after sitting around all summer and they will run earlier tomorrow. I can only hope.