Tuesday, October 28, 2014


This weekend we did some very nice birdwatching. We were successful in photographing several new birds, including snow buntings and snow geese. We also know of several other "snowy" birds, that we have in our photo collection. Among North American snowbirds, we are missing the Himalayan Snowcock, which is native to Pakistan and India, but has been introduced into the Ruby Mountains of Nevada. Below are our photos of the other North American snowbirds.

Snowy Plover, Coal Oil Point Reserve, Santa Barbara
Snowy Egret,  Chincoteague Island
Snow Bunting, Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Saginaw, MI.;
Snow Geese, Watkins Lake, Jackson County, MI 
Snowy Owl, Washtenaw County, MI
Dark-Eyed Junco, informally called the snowbird
We are just starting to see juncos this week, as they arrive at our bird feeder. "Juncos are the 'snowbirds' of the middle latitudes. Over most of the eastern United States, they appear as winter sets in and then retreat northward each spring." (Cornell Ornithology Lab)

Of course the term snowbird means something else too
(source: Gabe Clogston)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

At Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge near Saginaw yesterday we enjoyed driving around the loop designed for vistas over the marshlands and flooded woods that welcome many birds. We both took quite a few photos.

Flying sandhill cranes -- Len's photo.
A swan, canada geese, coots, and ducks swimming in one of the ponds, illustrating the incredible abundance of birds.
In the middle distance are two groups of sandhill cranes.

Two little snow buntings were hopping around on the road in front of us for a while.
Much of the loop, a one-lane, one-way semi-paved road, is built on a kind of dike above the surface of the ponds, marshy areas, and ditches that run through the refuge. The Saginaw River is on one side, and you can see the pumping equipment that controls the flow of water through the area. Everyone was driving very slowly, stopping whenever they wanted, even when there were no turnouts, because there's no reason to be there if you aren't a birdwatcher -- or, at other times, a hunter.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Barnes Foundation Gift Shop

We loved the art collection at the Barnes Foundation today, but Mona Lisa always deserves a special shout-out! Here are the gift shop items I noticed:

Monday, October 06, 2014

Beautiful Fall Day

Arnold Road just into Jackson County is the location of Watkins Lake
(confusingly sometimes called Thorn Lake)
We spent the morning there yesterday in beautiful fall weather.

We were there looking for a Cackling Goose, which might just be the one on the left in this photo. Recently, ornithologists did DNA tests on the smallest Canada Geese. These geese have a somewhat smaller beak (compared to their heads, so it seems to be kind of stubby). DNA revealed that they are actually a separate species that hang out with the big guys. So we wanted to see it. Problem is, Canada Geese vary a lot in size. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Comic Horror Suspense Social-Critique?

How many genres can you fit into just one book? Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix manages to include three or four of them -- seamlessly. The cover signals you that this book is about a store similar to Ikea. Look a little more closely, though, at the artfully framed (but inexpensive) artwork on the wall of the beautifully furnished room in the fake catalog:

When you start reading, you will quickly discover that the setting for Horrorstör is an Ikea knockoff called Orsk.  Employees at Orsk feel imprisoned in the maze-like display showrooms. Corporate "ethics" rule their behavior and fill them with dread of losing their jobs. There's other dread, too. Sometimes they go through doors that don't lead where they should. Morning crew members often find unexpected vandalism and messes. Basil, the store manager, wants to find out what's going on -- so he demands that two employees, Amy and Ruth Anne, stay with him overnight to watch for intruders.

Of course the intruders come in not through the doors (those have been blocked by real people who later join in the night of surprises) but by spooky evil-smelling ghosts rising from below the store. Orsk just happened to be built on the ruins of a horrible 19th century prison called the "Panopticon." Long ago, it stood on the same swampy lot where Orsk now beckons to drivers on the freeway to stop and buy cheap household goods and umlaut-heavily-named furnishings. The head of the prison had theories about tormenting or outright torturing his prisoners to make them repent. He was just as well-meaning as the ambitious Basil, who meant well but terrorized poor Amy, who only wanted to have a better life than her past in the trailer park where her mother and step-father lived. Social critique! Horror! Suspense! Humor! All in one tightly-wound tale.

Each chapter heading has an extract from the Orsk catalog. At first these are normal parodies of the Ikea catalog -- not a particularly hard thing to satirize. But they slowly morph into something else, as the story becomes more and more petrifying, with poor Amy tied into a torture chair (sort of like a desk chair) and the other characters suffering in various ways at the hands of the ghosts.

The suspense is well-managed, as the night goes on and on, with almost-successful escapes, nightmare-like changes in the already scary floorplan (who hasn't been disoriented in Ikea?) and all sorts of other horror events. Cell phones continue to work, and the 9-1-1 dispatcher tries to help, but somehow on this night, the police can't find the location or see the store from the freeway. By the end, as illustrated on the back cover -- the store is trashed. The characters end up.... well, no spoilers.

I laughed. I had nightmares. So did a lot of amazon customers, it seems. A good time was had by all.