Our Next Big Adventure

We've moved across the country multiple times. We've turned long and short weekends into memorable excursions. What's next on our adventure agenda? A baby BOY! After almost seven years of marriage, Kelly and I finally decided to take the plunge into parenthood, and today, we got to put a face with a...well, not quite a name yet, but that will come soon enough. See our pictures and video below for the first glimpses of our little man!

In this profile shot, he's facing up with his spine going to the left.

Here you can see his legs at the top of the photo. They look at little disjointed, but I swear he has knees! The ultrasound is just picking up the hard bone structures rather than what right now are soft growth plates at the knees. (You can see his body diving down to the very right of the picture. The structure just below the legs is the placenta.)

Fortunately, he does not have 6-7 toes on one foot...his two feet are just overlapping in this one -- since his legs are crossed like in the above photo.

Here he's facing upward, head at right, with his hand near his face.

And this is a video of his sweet little heartbeat! The "false starts" at the beginning are just the ultrasound technician getting the doppler in the exact location to hear it the best:

And for those of you who have asked for it, here's a photo to show how "pregnant" I look these days. I'm 19 weeks (out of 40) -- almost half-way!:

Kelly wants me to point out the Common Loon I'm looking at in the water to the left and back. :)


Earth Hour

Sarah and I will be turning our lights out tonight as a small gesture to participate in Earth Hour.


The places I'll go to find rare birds...

For all the beautiful places that we go to see neat birds and other stuff, we occasionally visit a not so beautiful place to find a particular species. This weekend was one of those cases. There was a rare gull species that I hadn't seen, and one of the best places to find rare gulls is the dump. It's not that rare gulls in particular prefer dumps. It's that SO MANY gulls are attracted by all the food we throw away that there is a high probability that any species in the region is more likely to be found at the dump than in some small group of gulls on the beach.

Here's the dump that our friends Bob and Lucy Duncan took us to find the gulls.

The target bird: Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) adult (bird in the middle)

A 2nd winter Lesser Black-backed Gull (the partly blocked bird in the middle)
I found a 1st winter bird, but didn't get a photo. It was a real treat to see all the ages on my first day seeing this species. Other gulls at the dump were Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla), Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis), and Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). We later saw a Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus), which was an unexpected bonus, and some Bonaparte's Gulls (Larus philadelphia), so it was a pretty gully day.

We visited some less smelly birding places later in the day, and found this 25-30 lb Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) out of the water; perhaps a large female looking for a place to lay her eggs.


Spring is in the air down here

I've felt pretty busy lately, but I've managed to get out a few times to see some neat stuff in the past couple months. This is a really nice time of year in the FL panhandle. Amphibians have been breeding, flowers are beginning to bloom, wintering birds are beginning to sing before heading North, and the first breeding birds are beginning to arrive from further South. For those of you living in MN, we've had your loons for the past 5-6 months, and they're starting to look good, and should begin their long journey back to you in the next few weeks.

This Chapman's Butterwort (Pinguicula planifolia) is a rare plant that grows in some of our ephemeral wetlands. It can easily go unnoticed when not in bloom, as its leaves stay very close to the ground and are usually overshadowed by grasses and other plants during most of the year.

This Hog? Plum (Prunis umbellata?) was attracting some small and uncooperative butterflies with its fragrant blooms. I like how the blossoms on this twig form an arc to the left, and the lichen growing on the twig forms almost a mirror arc to the right. The lichens don't hurt the plants they grow on.

I've always liked spiderworts, and this hairyleaf spiderwort (Tradescantia hirsutiflora) is no exception. I like the effect created by the numerous filaments in the center of the flower.

I've been working toward finding all 27 anuran (frogs and toads) species in this area. Going into 2009, I only had two to go, Dusky Gopher Frog (Lithobates sevosus), and Little Grass Frog (Pseudacris ocularis). I recently visited a known breeding pond for the gopher frogs with some FWS biologists. We caught some of the tadpoles, though without good photos, and as an added bonus, we also found three Rough Earth Snakes (Virginia striatula), which I'd never seen before.

Rough Earth Snake (brown individual)

Rough Earth Snake (gray individual)

Ornate Chorus Frog (Pseudacris ornata) larva with hind leg buds

This year has been another dry one in a long series of drought years in the Southeast. Last year was the first in seven that our flatwoods ponds held water long enough for the endangered Reticulated Flatwoods Salamanders (Ambystoma bishopi) to successfully breed in three of the roughly 20 historic known breeding ponds. This year has been just good enough for the best pond to hold what appears to be enough water to get the salamanders through to metamorphosis. One pond is pretty bad, but it's a lot better than the zero we had for six consecutive years.

larval Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander

The next two species are closely related to the flatwoods salamander.

Larval Mole Salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum)

Adult female Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum)

I'll end with this video of a Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) excavating a nesting cavity in a turkey oak (Quercus laevis) snag while its mate keeps watch nearby.


A most excellent trip to WA and AK

In late February I went to Anchorage, Alaska for my good friend and college room mate, Kevin's wedding. On my way, I stopped in Seattle for a few days to visit some good friends that live there. I spent most of the time with my good friends Mark and Gaby, who Sarah and I knew from our time in Muncie, IN. Mark and I spent a few days birding, fishing, and camping on the Olympic peninsula.

This is my first Redtail Surfperch (Amphistichus rhodoterus), which Mark showed me how to catch on the beautiful west coast of the peninsula.

We tried for Steelhead (anadromous form of Rainbow) Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in a few of the beautiful streams and rivers throughout the peninsula. Mark caught this one in a neat river where we had to use ropes to get down the steep ravine to the water.

I just liked this picture of the sun getting ready to set over the Pacific.

These River Otters (Lontra canadensis) were not shy at all. In fact, I got the feeling that it would not have been wise for me to get any closer than I did. These are probably one of my favorite North American mammals.

Here's a video of the two otters. I had to use Youtube because the video was too large to put directly on the blog. Acording to a friend of mine, the odd tail-shaking they do to each other in the video between seconds 25 and 37 is called sprainting, and has to do with scent marking.

This is Crescent Lake. It was formed long ago by a natural landslide, and is 624 feet deep.

I like how the smooth cobble on the water's edge looks in the early morning light. This is the Hoh River, about a mile upstream from where it empties into the Pacific.

It was great to spend time with Mark and Gaby, and I also enjoyed spending an evening with our friends Troy and Lisa from our time in Astoria. Now, on to Alaska.

I began my first full day in Alaska by heading north into Arctic Valley to do some snowshoeing and birding. It was beautiful in every direction, and the weather was perfect; 20 degrees F, and not windy.

This is a video of a cow Moose (Alces alces) and her calf. I had to include this iconic Alaskan animal.

I put in about 1.5 mi on snowshoes in the arctic valley. Everywhere else had shallow enough, or packed enough, snow to just use boots. Here, I saw an adult Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) flush a flock of male Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) off of a ridgetop.

I visited a couple other spots to hike, including the Eagle River Valley, which had a lot to offer in terms of scenery and wildlife. This is just a little side stream that flows into the Eagle River.

Sarah and I saw our first Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers (Picoides arcticus and dorsalis, respectively) in Northern MN over Christmas. Black-backed Woodpeckers are less common in the Western part of their range, so I felt fortunate to find this female.

It was neat to see this male American Three-toed Woodpecker drumming on this resonant piece of dead wood to warn other males not to mess with his territory. A neighboring male could be heard in the distance.

One great bonus of my trip to Anchorage was getting to spend some time with my cousin Sean and his wife Colleen, which was coincidentally the name of Kevin's bride to be. They took me to the Bear Tooth Theatre to eat and then attend the Alaska Ocean Film Festival, which was really a neat new experience for me. We also went for a really enjoyable night hike the next day, which is when this photo was taken.

I didn't get all the way down to the coast, but I did take the new Seward Highway South from Anchorage for a ways. One of the highlights of that trip, besides all the great scenery, was getting to see these Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli) foraging near the road. I could see their hoofprints leading back towards an almost vertical cliff from which they had descended. Being excellent climbers and having a thick coat of white fur, they are well adapted to an inhospitable and snowy alpine terrain.

After I had been in AK for a couple days, some of the guys started arriving. It's always great to see good friends. Here's Dave and me at Kaladi Brothers, looking sleep deprived and ready for some high quality Joe.

I enjoy going out hiking alone, but it's also nice to enjoy the outdoors with good friends. Here's Dave, Willy, and me on an outing before the rehearsal dinner. Not too shabby.

Kevin has made some excellent friends along the way. It was really a special time to get to know all these great guys from different stages of Kevin's life. Sometimes these times can be a bit awkward, but this felt almost like we already knew each other. Very cool.

A few of us shot out for a quick hike before the wedding. I already miss that place.

Not being the type to miss an opportunity at foosball, we all got in some quick play before the ceremony.

The actual wedding was beautiful but not drawn out. For all the planning that goes into these things, they sure come and go quickly.

I'll end with an icon of all places cold and rocky, the Common Raven (Corvus corax).