Monday, May 26, 2008

Beasts in the Garden 2008

A new spring brought new critters to our little suburban yard. Just outside our kitchen window, we have an aptly-named bird's nest spruce. For the past two springs, a pair of house wrens built their nest in it, but this year a pair of cardinals beat them to it.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Here's the female on May 2 towards the end of the nest-building process.

She laid 3 eggs on approximately May 4. A couple days later, I noticed a broken eggshell and embryo nearby. It had likely died and she pushed it out of the nest.

This is a shot of the female on her nest. The remaining 2 eggs hatched on May 11. They appeared to be a couple of small wet blobs. I took no photos, as I was trying to minimize the disturbances.

On May 16 the 2 babies are 5 days old.

On May 18, at 7 days old, the babies are quite a bit larger.

On May 22, there is considerable activity around the nest-site. Both parents are very agitated, then I notice a pair of house wrens that are apparently trying to reclaim the spruce. The cardinals are on the defense. The female is shown above and the male below.

This shot shows the close proximity of the nest to the window. If I opened the window, I could have reached out to the nest.
The proud parents perched in a nearby spruce on guard from the intruders.

The house wrens weren't the only reason for the excess activity. The two young cardinals are now out of the nest and thinking about the life beyond... or at least when the next worm would be delivered. May 22, 11 days old.

The nest was abandoned the next day. It doesn't appear that it was large enough to fly, but both babies were gone. I spotted the male the next day in a nearby tree, seemingly unconcerned.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

5 Under 5 At 50

As I approached age 50, I began to have a minor mid-life crisis and I set a goal for myself a couple years ago: at age 50 I would run 5 marathons (26.2 miles) in under 5 hours each. Well... I just turned 50... so this is the year. A perfectly reachable goal, since I have already run 3 of my 4 marathons under 5 hours - 2 in 2004 and 1 in 2006. But now - 5 in one year! The first one was the Bi-Lo Marathon in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This being our first trip to the Carolinas, I expected more warmth, but the race began at 0630 with 26 degrees. Nice clear day - along with the flat, sea-level course and cool temps, made for a nice run.

#1 Myrtle Beach, NC: 4:35:41
1 of 1765 finishers

My second for the year was supposed to be the Lincoln Marathon in May, but I didn't go due to severe thunderstorms all night before, dumping over 5 inches of rain on us, resulting in a wet basement which needed attention instead.

So, my actual second race was the Omaha Marathon on Sep 23 and finished in 4:54:39. There were only 390 finishers. It was a fairly small race and I can see why. It was bad! It was hot and hilly. Omaha had a low of 68 and high of 91 degrees today. The first 11 miles were very hilly, including the route through the zoo, which was actually the most scenic part of the whole day. The majority of the last half of the race took us through the not-so-scenic areas of North Omaha, where the gangstas, luckily, were still asleep at that time of day, and the dilapidated warehouse district. The smoke from burning debris at an old junkyard was a nice added touch. Aid stations were plentiful and traffic control was generally very good, although the couple miles through Carter Lake was rather sparse of police.

#2 Omaha, NE: 4:54:39

At the beginning of Race #3, the Des Moines Marathon, Oct 27, 2007. Getting my tunes adjusted. 58 degrees at the 8am start - reaching about 70 at finish time. First half was a little hilly and though some neighborhoods. Last half was flat and through the lakes and parks area. Nice route. Blisters on left big toe and second toe, but otherwise unscathed.

I am SOOO hungry at the end. Finish in 4:53:20.
1428 finishers

Race #4 is the Las Vegas Marathon, Las Vegas, NV, Dec 2, 2007. A cool 39 degrees at the start at 06:07am.
Taken a few minutes past the starting gun, I'm still not to the Starting Line yet - just shuffling along with the crowd.
Finally running, I pull off for a second to see who's behind me. Good! At least I'm not last!

The Blue Man Group was one of the many entertainers along the way.

As were the mini Blues Brothers.

It reached about 50 degrees at finish time. A flat course on a nice cool, sunny day with no wind. Finish in 4:51:04.
1 of 4289 finishers

The 5th marathon eluded me, as much as I avoided it. Four seemed to be good enough, especially since my 51st birthday was quickly approaching. My goal for next year: 51 naps while my toenails grow back.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Beasts in the Garden

We get invaded by a variety of little beasts around our home each summer. It's amazing what you can find in your own yard.

This praying mantis was outside our back door yesterday. Also called a Carolina mantid, Stagmomantis carolina (08/09/07).

"Take me to your leader"

She has some wicked legs!

Grasshopper or locust? It turns out, that they are the same thing. The short-horned grasshopper, Family Acrididae, is also known as a locust.

Not to be confused with the long-horned grasshopper, Family Tettigoniidae. Katydids are a long-horned grasshopper, although this is not a katydid. (9/14/07)

A nest of Cicada Killers, Sphecius Sp., lived under the side deck throughout July and August of 2006. They returned this year. (7/21/07)

They look like huge wasps, which they are, but are relatively harmless to people. All they really want to do is, well... kill cicadas.


Possibly a Dog Day Cicada, (Cicadidae family, superfamily Cicadoidea, suborder Auchenorrhyncha).

In August, a group of Funnel Weaver Spiders, Agelenidae Sp., took up housekeeping in the roses, daylilies and elsewhere.

A few Garden Spiders, Argiope Aurantia, also moved in during August and September.

A jewelled web.

In late September, I found a pair of praying mantis'. This pair was mating in the lilies, while the female dined on a grasshopper. Females have been known to eat the male, so I'm guessing the male brought the female some takeout to keep her occupied. (9/25/06)

It must have worked, because the male is still hanging around into mid-October. (10/14/06)

This spring we had a nest of baby bunnies, which usually stayed well hidden in the Russian sage and pampas grass. I did happen to get a shot of one of the baby American robins, Turdus migratorius, as it was learning to fly and explore its new surroundings. (5/28/07)

For the past two weeks, a goldfinch, Cardualis tristis, has been coming to my office window, sometimes pecking at the glass and flapping its wings,

...sometimes just sitting and looking longingly inside.

I'm not sure if it wants inside, or if it thinks it has found its mate in the reflection. (7/26/07) By the first week of August, it was no longer making it's daily visits.

A female Red Velvet Ant, Dasymutilla aureola pacifica, was wandering around the back foundation today (7/29/07). I saw a male flying around earlier, as well. Males fly - females walk. They aren't really ants at all, but actually a wasp, also known as a "cow killer" due to it's painful sting.

We've also had several Eastern American Toads, Bufo americanus, take up residence around the yard. They can stay, as long as they keep eating mosquitos and don't come out of their hole when I'm mowing. (7/29/07)

The webworm moth, Hyphantria cunea (Drury), found our oak tree this summer. The larvae don't generally kill trees, but they sure can ugly them up. (08/04/07)

And what would summer be without Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, feeding on nectar from... a Butterfly Bush. (7/29/07)

A tiger swallowtail Papilio glaucus, also enjoying the Butterfly Bush. (8/19/07).


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Churdan Quasquicentennial

I attended Churdan, Iowa’s 125th Anniversary on June 30th. I missed the Centennial in 1982, for whatever reason, so I made an extra effort to go “back home” this time. My wife, Kim, and I left Council Bluffs at 7 am in order to arrive in time to watch the parade at 9:30. After pulling into Churdan precisely at 9:30, we spent 15 minutes searching for a working restroom, before spotting the porta-potties on Main Street, then walked a couple of blocks to the parade route.

No parade yet, so we continued another couple of blocks thinking we would find my mom along the route. Instead we ran into my cousins from Cedar Rapids, so we waited with them.

Apparently the 9:30 start time was for the Kiddie Parade, which always precedes the main parade. No one nearby recalled seeing it, unless it happened to be the little red electric kiddie car and four bicycles decorated with crepe paper streamers that went by earlier. The main parade began just after 10 am at the high school, went south on Head Street, past main street, then made a loop back up Livingston Street, toward the high school. It was one of the better Churdan parades I’ve seen, lasting about an hour, and included the usual church and community group floats, the Churdan Town and Country Band, fire trucks from all the nearby towns, antique cars and a few teams of horses, all led by the American Legion color guard.

There were no Boy Scouts, however. When I lived in Churdan in the 1960s, we Cub Scouts marched right behind the Boy Scouts and American Legion at the head of the parade. I was told there are no Scouts in Churdan now, probably due to a combination of not enough boys and too many other activities. There were only seven graduates in the Paton-Churdan Class of 2007. There were 29 in my Class of 1975.

After the parade we walked back to Main Street, where several vendor tents were set up – mostly folks from out of town – selling wood crafts, t-shirts and other wares, most of which had nothing to do with Churdan. Except for the little Churdan Quasquicentennial booth full of Churdan post cards, posters, t-shirts and a set of video CDs, which I purchased.

The Churdan General Store, City Hall and Library were all open with many historical displays. The General Store was brought to this location for the Centennial and sits next to the basketball courts.

The basketball court is the former outdoor roller skating rink, where I used to spend many Wednesday and Saturday summer evenings skating with my friends. The water fountain appears to be original and still works. The Churdan Depot sign was probably removed from the old depot prior to demolition. The depot was located behind the rink.

The Beer Garden was a fenced off section of Hill Street, out in the full sun. Since there is no permanent drinking establishment (bar) in town anymore, the beer garden was the only place for the half dozen patrons to get a beer. Although there may have been more customers throughout the afternoon, I suspect the vendor probably did more business selling pop and water during the day, but the street dance was yet to come that night.

After finally meeting up with my mom, the three of us walked a couple of blocks to the old Picht House. You can get almost anywhere in Churdan by simply walking a couple of blocks. Only three houses to the west was the white house that I lived in from about 1960 to 1967. The Picht House was purchased by a former classmate of mine who had been working hard over the past year renovating it into a sort of bed & breakfast and local gathering place, furnished in turn-of-the-century antiques. Last century, not this century. Upon completing the self-tour of the house and snacking on some homemade desserts, we walked back to Main Street thinking about lunch.

Tuesday’s Coffee House is one of the best things to happen to Churdan in the last few years. It’s the only local eatery in town and serves a variety of sandwiches and drinks, including… gourmet coffee. Lattes in Churdan! Who’d a thunk it? I was first in Tuesdays a year ago during its previous ownership and I found it a very quaint little place that served up a good lunch and a great cup of coffee. A farmer friend of mine mentioned that Sumatra was his favorite. I remember going into town with my granddad to the cafĂ© where the local farmers gathered. They would sometimes sit all morning drinking coffee on a single dime. Modern farmers are now likely to pay a buck fifty for a single cup of Sumatra. Tuesdays is under new ownership this year and they provided the same quality of food and atmosphere. Service was a bit slow, but considering that the local population had more than doubled for the weekend and I’m sure they hired some temporary help, there were no complaints. They also sell Irish gifts, Churdan souvenirs and a few items made by local artisans. I heard later that they ran completely out of food late in the afternoon and had to close early.

As we read over the schedule of events, Kim mentioned that she had never played Bingo. So off to the Community Center we went, already very late. But the eight or so players were already playing the last game of the day. Outside the back door, a large group of people gathered around the excavation of the time capsule that was buried in1982. After several good-sized holes had been dug, the big white ice chest was finally unearthed and taken to the high school to be opened at the Alumni Banquet. The items are now on display at the Library.

At 3pm, we went to the football field to watch the Farmall Promenade. They are a group of farmers from the Nemaha, Iowa, area who “square dance” while driving Farmall tractors.

The four men drive Farmall Hs, while their “ladies” drive the slightly smaller C models. I have to wonder about Nemaha women, though, as these gals had hairy legs and three of them were sporting beards.

They put on a very fun show for almost 90 minutes, making their tractors dance through actual square dance routines. It was fast paced and there were no collisions.

The Alumni Banquet was an All-Class Reunion. We arrived early, so I could wander the hallways to see if anything looked familiar. The lunch room was only thing that brought back memories, such as conversations with the cooks: “No spinach, please.” “Just take a little, you need to try it.”

Social Hour rooms were organized by class. The Art Room served as the gathering place for most of the 1974 through 1979 classes. I walked in to see six people sitting at a table. I saw them earlier, so I knew that four of them were one family. The other two appeared to be a couple, so I estimated that there were approximately two former students there representing six years of graduating classes. Things appeared to be off to a rocky start, but soon two more people came in and the room filled over the next hour. I visited with several people from my childhood, grade school and Cub Scout days, most of whom I had not seen in 35 to 40 years. I only saw three people from my actual class and I was disappointed that there weren’t more. The majority of them still live in the local area, or at least within an hour’s drive. My experience with class reunions is that the locals rarely attend. It’s the ones that have moved away who tend to return to relive some part of their childhood. I still had a good visit with lots of folks and even Kim stayed occupied with another alumni-spouse, with whom she shared a lot in common.

My family moved from Churdan to Paton in 1969 (still the same school district) and then to Jefferson in 1972, which is where I graduated. I probably had more opportunities in Jefferson, but after attending school at Paton-Churdan for nine years, I still feel tied to that community in many ways. Since I’m not an actual alumnus, I was somewhat apprehensive about my reception to their banquet. But money talks in Churdan, too. I just flashed my nine-dollar dinner fee and they welcomed me with open arms. In fact, only one person even mentioned my apparent trespass. When he saw me in the registration line, he said, “Hey, what are you doing here? You didn’t graduate from here!” I said, “Hi! Nice to see you too, Dad!” By 8:30 pm, the program of activities showed no sign of weakening, so we crept out the side door to begin the two and a half hour drive back home. It’s not over yet, though, I still have six DVDs to watch.