Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hiking, birding, and hail!

Bec and I went hiking last weekend (on the 21st) at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. There is a 5 mile loop we've hiked before and since it was spring-like out, we decided to go. A few pretty wildflowers, most still unidentified, were blooming. Not many birds singing, but we had a lovely hike, ate lunch above the "hidden spring," which is a mostly underground creek with some entrances from the surface.

Yesterday we got "extra" coneflower, hellebore, poppy, sensitive ferns, hosta, columbine, primrose, and some herbs (chive, parsley) for our garden. A friend of mine has an extensive garden and these things had spread and he needed to remove them. So we gave them a good home. The back garden, which is I think now dog free, is about completely covered in plants. If they all grow out, it should be pretty lush back there. VERY excited. Going to be really nice. Extra coneflowers in the front yard and other blooming flowers in summer will accent the variety of things we have blooming now.

Random wildflowers I need to try to ID:

(a violet?)

OLD Cedar stump

Last night the storm that came through was pretty wicked. Rain blew sideways, it flowed through the backyard and flattened our daffodils. It also hailed for a couple minutes. Bec was wanting to look out the back door, but both dogs ran out in the worst of the storm and did a 180 and leaned against the door trying to get back inside. They knew better. A possible tornado caused some damage about 15min drive from here with broken windows on buildings and cars. Strong winds anyway.

Hail through the side door while it was hailing and pouring.

Water flowing through the yard.
I was in Columbia SC last week for a meeting. A bunch of us blew off some boring committee meetings we're not a part of and went to Congaree National Monument. MASSIVE virgin timber here. I guess I'm now a tree hugger. This is a loblolly pine.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spring Break!

I know that you, my fans, have been clamoring for news of my spring break so here it is: spring break is not as fun now as it was the first time through college.  I did manage to do some fun things.  Sunday afternoon Betsy and (some of) her boys came up for fun with Bec and Scott.  We played at the playground, ate at the Mexican restaurant, and went to the zoo.  The weather was perfect for all those activities.  In our downtime, we played with Uncle Scott's car collection.  I hear the tow truck with two hooks is pretty cool.  Oh, yeah!  I worked Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (see, I told you spring break for adults is not much fun.)  Now it's Friday and I'm on vacation, but the weather is cold and drizzly.  Therefore, I'm not leaving the house.  Instead, I'm rocking out to Chicago (I don't wanna live without your love, Peter Cetera), updating the blog, and thinking that I should be cleaning the house.  On the plus side, I did have a breakfast date with Scott before he headed west. 

Spring in Smyrna:
At the park:
Boys on swings.
John slides down backwards...
and climbs high.
At the zoo:
Meerkat perched on yucca.
The new zebras; they have brown stripes in addition to the black and white.
Goat grooming.
Silly pictures- John and Mommy grew horns!

John talking to the zookeepers about the giraffes.
Savannah, Congo, and Margarita (in back) eating a treat.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What have we been doing? (updated with pictures)

The answer: not much.

I (Scott) worked way too much lately, but I also spent a week in Mexico! I got home last night from Chiapas, Mexico, while my luggage arrive today at 1pm. This is the state that is the furthest SW in the country and butts up against Guatamala. The terrain is incredible down there! Serious mountains! I was looking at weather in Tuxtla Gutierrez (where airport is) and thought it'd be hot in the 90's every day. Well, we drove an hour from the airport and went up nearly the entire time! Tuxtla is at ~900 feet in elevation and San Cristobal de las casas (where we spent 5 days) is at 7200 feet!!!! We birded at 9000 feet one day. It was in the 30's and 40's at night! Wish I had more than a fleece jacket! Worked out ok though. We had a decent room and hot water, so that was nice. They fed us well too. The Alliance we were working with paid for everything but cerveza and souveniers.

We had almost 3 days of meeting while there and it was a great meeting. We are partnering with conservation groups in Chiapas to help them develop their organization so they can develop conservation plans, prioritize habitats by how rapidly they are declining, rarity of birds, make maps using technology they need, etc. We are essentially providing guidance for them to move forward with things they want to do for birds and share our experiences with the same type of planning in the US. They are at the beginning stages and need a lot of guidance, but also need to make decisions on their own. My role is essentially bird watcher and photographer, but I'm more on the technical aspect of the group. They will be doing a lot of bird monitoring, so I can help develop protocols, etc. Maybe I can help do the surveys too!

Anyway, we birded a couple days too and in the mornings. We never started a meeting before 930 or so. 830am our time is actually about an hour later in Mexican time. 10 minute break is 30-40min break. very laid back. But this meant we met until 8pm a couple nights. Uh.

San Cristobal de las casas is the nicest town in Mexico I have ever seen. Beautiful zocalo (town square) and streets. Wonderful food and people. I really want to spend more time there. We birded in pine-oak forests that were essentially virgin forests at 9000ft just outside town. Incredible trees and birds. We also birded in Tuxtla and the dry tropical forest, which looks like 20 year old forest with lots of small trees, but it had never been cut before! It just grows slow with nearly no rainfall. We did bird a canyon outside Tuxtla that rivals the Gand Canyon. It was about 4000 feet straight down from where we were. Holy moly! Amazing views. We also spent time at the zoo in Tuxtla, which is remnant virgin forest with cages built under the canopy in a sea of concrete. Very birdy too! The zoo actually was the coolest zoo ever! Beats Memphis, sorry.
In the end, I had a wonderful time outside suffering from a cold most of the time. I felt awful a couple days, but then again the small of poo in Mexico City on the way back made me want to die. It was awful, as is the airport in general. Confusing as heck, completely disorganized, and stupid. Enpough of that. Anyway, the habitats we saw were incredible, as was the destruction to the landscape for firewood, corn fields, and development. Seeing these areas helps me understand the issues down there for the natural habitats and allows me to better develop research projects since I've seen some of the rare birds and habitats. There are a couple priority regions we'll help them work in that we didn't see. I will just have to go back and visit the coast the Sierra Madre mountains in southern Chiapas.

Brian (my buddy in Kentucky that was there) and I are already plotting a return trip. We can stay at the bioreserves for probably very cheap or free and have contacts all over the region for guides, etc. Most expensive part is getting there and that was only $600 round trip when the ticket was purchases barely 2 weeks before the trip!

I have lots of pictures to go through and will post when I get some lined up, but here is a taste:
Magnificant Hummingbird (nearly twice the size of our Ruby-throated Hummers) feeding on a flower at the reserve where we stayed, yes in front of the big cross.
Mountain Pygmy Owl (abut 6 inches tall). Totally awesome!
Me at El Sumidero Canyon, which is about 4000 ft straight down from here.
Another canyon shot.
Canyon again, looking towards Tuxtla.
More pictures (mostly of birds):