Woodsy Respite (Open Thread)

We went for a hike this morning and saw these lovely Sandhill cranes:

We also saw a little dragonfly that was the most gorgeous metallic blue:

We spotted a couple of soft-shell turtles as well as a gopher tortoise and numerous wading birds. Plus the usual complement of cardinals, jays, mockingbirds, etc.

I hope you’re finding beauty in your corner of the world when you can. I’ve made a deliberate effort to look for it as an antidote to the ugliness in the current culture, and I swear it helps!

Open thread!

But it makes me feel better each time it begins

First of all, to answer Dave’s question, yes, it’s worth engaging with journalists, especially those who clearly take the time to seek out good, non-establishment sources.

Now, onto what may destroy this country. K-Thug today quite rightly calls out the Republican moral midgets in Congress for bowing down before Dear Leader. I’ve been wondering for a while: what would reasonable Republican Congressional criticism of Trump even sound like? I take it for granted that they’re all crazy assholes, but even crazy assholes might have some respect for reality and truth. Yes, McCain and Huckleberry Hound like to get off the occasional anti-Trump one-liner before voting for whatever hack Russian double agent Trump has nominated for the cabinet, but they never attempt to give an honest account of just what’s so fucked up about Trump. So I was surprised to see this from Mark Sanford, of all people:

I ask Sanford, in our early February interview, whether it’s fair to say Trump doesn’t impress him. “Yeah, that’s accurate,” he tells me. “Because at some level he represents the antithesis, or the undoing, of everything I thought I knew about politics, preparation and life.”


Sanford swears he has nothing personal against the new president; in fact, he’s heard good things about him personally from several mutual acquaintances. But, he says, he can’t “look the other way” as Trump peddles false information to suit his political aims.

“I believe in a war of ideas … and I tell the staff all the time: Look, we’re in the business of crafting and refining our arguments that are hopefully based on the truth,” he adds. “Truth matters. Not hyperbole, not wild suggestion, but actual truth.”

I hate the whole hunt for a reasonable Republican game people like to play, so I don’t want to make it sound like Mark Sanford is a great guy, but he’s saying what every non-brain dead Republican in Congress (I think there’s at least a few dozen in this category) should be saying, that Trump’s detachment from reality is simply not acceptable. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s probably the politically smart thing to do for the medium-to-long term.

But so far no one’s doing it besides Sanford. He must have done a lot of good thinking out there on the Appalachian Trail.

Turkeys, Turtles and Pie — Oh My! (Open Thread)

We went hiking yesterday at an inland nature preserve near Brooksville, Florida. It’s called Chinsegut, and we’ve been there before. It’s a lovely place with easy trails through sandhill and hardwood hammock habitats:

Chinsegut June 2016

It’s usually an easy hike, but yesterday, it was hotter than a red-headed roofer. We got a late start, so we were traipsing through the woods during the suffocating heat. The birds had more sense than we did — they mostly stayed hidden in the woods. But we did see a couple of wild turkeys on the way to the preserve:

wild turkeys June 2016

We also saw the gopher tortoise pictured below on the trail. It was greedily devouring a plant when we first noticed it. I interrupted its meal long enough to take this photo:

gopher tortoise June 2016

Gopher tortoises dig burrows all over the place, so you have to watch your step around them. They are otherwise harmless, unlike this snapping turtle* we saw, which gave us the most evil look, as if we’d trampled its eggs (we hadn’t). They can be nasty customers, so we kept our distance:

snapping turtle June 2016

After a relatively short but sweaty hike, we figured we deserved a treat, so when we got home, I made this peach pie, pictured below when it was still hot and bubbly, fresh from the oven:

peach pie June 2016

I need to work on my crust-crimping game, but the pie is pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. The trick is to mix the sliced peaches and half the sugar in a bowl and let it set for a bit. Then put a colander on a saucepan, dump the peaches into the colander to drain and return them to the bowl.

Then you boil the sugary peach juice in the saucepan until it reduces down to a syrup and add it back to the peaches. That way, your pie won’t be too runny, which is always a danger with peach pies.

Anyhoo, that’s what we did with our Saturday. Today is the last day of our vacation, so we’ll have to make the most of it. We’re still deciding how — baseball, beer and BBQ are under consideration. Got any plans today?

Open thread!

* A couple of commenters pointed out that this is probably a Florida softshell turtle. I think they’re right.

For the Birds II (Open Thread)

We’ve been on a mini-vacation this week, which included hiking and birdwatching for a few days in Southwest FL. The region is one of the best in North America for observing birds, but summer (which is already is here, despite what the calendar suggests) is the worst time for it since a) migratory birds have already decamped, and b) it’s hot AF.

Still, it has been a wildly successful trip in terms of birds spotted. Yesterday, we saw a Mangrove Cuckoo, which even highly skilled birdwatchers (not us!) find challenging to spot. It was pure luck — we heard it and had the good fortune to see it fly across the road right in front of us.

We also saw innumerable Magnificent Frigatebirds, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Egrets, Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants and Anhingas. We saw plenty of Ibises as well, but since they routinely de-bug our lawn, an Ibis spotting is ho-hum to us — we’re spoiled!

I’ve resisted investing in a camera so far, but this week, I’ve regretted that. Here’s a drawing of a Great Egret that landed on the dock railing at our rental:


And here’s a lovely Green Heron who was almost close enough for a decent iPhone photo:


We saw a gorgeous Reddish Egret too, but he was too far away to photograph without a telephoto lens. The bonus sighting of the day was when we were looking up and then happened to look down long enough to see a little otter scamper across the trail.

Overall, a worthwhile trip despite the wretched heat. Open thread!

Saturday Morning Open Thread

We’re off this morning in search of the magnificent frigatebird:


If this morning’s birdwatching goes like last week’s, we’ll see everything but a magnificent frigatebird, including species that have no business being in Florida this time of year.

Open thread!

You can help solve a mass murder!

Located in a town famous for its hills, University of Pittsburgh’s main campus climbs an especially steep one like a vine. You can see intelligent design (small ‘i’, small ‘d’) in the way classes, dorms and the medical school all sit within a short walk of Fifth Avenue at the bottom while a more strenuous hike is rewarded with the athletic facilities and an excellent view. Behind campus Center Ave. runs up the spine of the hill and over its peak, into a neighborhood understandably known as the Hill District.

Around dusk Center is busy with Pitt employees looking to avoid Oakland traffic, and crows. For reasons that probably involve old, tall trees that line the street, and the excellent view, crows seem to like that part of Center. Once in a while one can see what seems like half the crows in Pittsburgh wheeling around over the hill and holding corvid debates in a babbling din. You can drive on for miles and see murder after murder headed for Center in the fading light.

The group name for crows is 'murder', as in a murder of crows.  This would be an attempted murder.  Photo via Mudfooted.

The group name for crows is ‘murder’, as in a murder of crows. The above would be an attempted murder. Photo via Mudfooted.

Of course you need look up, so like most commuters I usually missed it. In fact I only noticed it one early spring night when I opened my car window and looked around to see what the racket was about. I have not even taken that commute for a long time now so I have entirely lost touch with how often or what time of year it happens. This weekend I brought Dr. Mrs. Dr. F., Jr. for a walk on the hill at dusk but we only saw clear sky and a great view of Pittsburgh’s east end. The girl loves pointing out birds so I thought a living sea of crows could short out her toddler brain in a delightful and hopefully non-permanent way.

Maybe you all can help. Does anyone know motivates crows to gather in mega-murders like that? Mating season? I would love to hear actual expertise, educated guessing, suitably persuasive BS, whatever you got. Maybe some of you drive that commute and can pass on when you see it happen.

Use this space to share any unexpected wildlife encounters you have had.

Hiking Report (Open Thread)

We found this little guy or gal sunning him or herself on a rock beside a mountain stream:


Even the yellow-bellied sliders are polite around here. 

Saw this lovely sight yesterday:


Notice the moon? The weather couldn’t be more perfect. 

Today we’re going into town in search of mass quantities of fresh cider, some of which I plan to transform into hard cider when I get back home.

I’ve not followed the news closely. But Trump is a punch-line even in darkest red Carolina:

 Open thread!