Monday, May 25, 2009

Daggett Creek

In the spring I like to head a short distance into the mountains not too far from Boise to enjoy the cooler air and the birds that follow the streams and rivers as they migrate and seek nesting areas. This is Mores Creek, which flows into the Boise River.

This Osprey was circling overhead and watching me warily. Perhaps it was trying to gum up my camera lens so I would leave.

The Dipper was gathering nesting materials and taking them to a nest being constructed under the bridge.

I found some Red Crossbills feeding in a pine tree. It was the first time I had ever seen one. I scrambled up a hillside and hung onto a tree to try to get closer to eye level with them. They feed in the tops of trees, prying open conifer cones with their odd, curved bills. The females, like this one, are yellowish. The males are red.

The Yellow-breasted Chat do an odd courtship flight, almost hovering, moving slowly through the air with their tail and wings spread wide, the yellow throat puffed out and waved like a flag.

There were many swallows flying low over the water, catching insects. I think this is the first Barn Swallow in flight that I've managed to focus on and photograph.

There were many Lazuli Buntings, both males and females. The males wear the bright blue that gives them their name.

And, my favorite image of the day is this Calliope Hummingbird that came and perched very close to my head. They have long, purple feathers on their gorget. It was a fun way to spend a day off from work.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


OK, I admit it. I'm falling a bit behind here at the blog. The spring birds are arriving in colorful droves, and this is also the brief time in which things sprout, grow and bloom. Seems like that lasts all of a few weeks in the desert, but I make the most of it. Today was birding and gardening. The bird photos can wait. Here's the flower garden by the back door.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Getting ready for the Avondale Basin hike

In a few weeks I will be leading a birding outing to Avondale Basin, near Silver City in the Owyhee Mountains. Today I went out to check out the area and plan the outing in more detail.

At my first stop, a rest area by the Snake River, the Cliff Swallows were busy gathering mud to make their nests.

At the Silver City road, this sign advised me that it might be a while before the snow was clear on this route.

It was a nice paved road, though ... not the dirt road I remembered from years ago.

I stopped by a small creek, because I hoped I might hear or see a Black-throated Sparrow. No luck. Maybe they don't live here, or perhaps it is too early in the season, or too late in the day. For a moment I thought I saw a Black Phoebe, but this is not within their usual range so it was not likely and the dark flycatcher did not hold still for a good look or a photograph. Just a little distance down the trail I found a very happy Rock Wren couple, singing and gathering nesting materials. One of them paused to pose for a picture.

While driving up to the mountain terrain along the steep, winding road (which did turn to dirt after a few miles) I found some Lark Sparrows. They have a bold facial pattern.

There were colorful flowers beside the road. These paintbrush caught my eye.

After quite a bit of elevation gain, the vegetation changed to sweet-smelling fir and I heard the call of the Mountain Chickadee and Red-breasted Nuthatch. The Chickadee came out on a branch to greet me.

Then a "Road Closed" sign was paired with this warning, so I got out and walked. Not far along, I came upon this 4-wheel drive pickup that had reached its limit. Quite a few cars were parked in this area, and many people were enjoying a Sunday hike in the snow on this warm spring day.

The eroded rock formations were fascinating.

I thought I heard a Chipping Sparrow, and even thought I saw the brownish cap ... but wait, it is a Green-Tailed Towhee!

There were more wildflowers and insects and butterflies.

And, a Chipping Sparrow. I thought I heard one. Perhaps there were some of each calling from the brush.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Where do moods come from?

I've been pondering what to write, or how to write it, for a while now on one of those difficult subjects. Depression. Apparently it is not unusual for men to react very emotionally when they are abandoned by their mate, and I've known women to suffer from depression as well.

One theory as to why men in a terminated relationship pout was that it was safer for the prehistoric man who found "his" lover chumming with a Neanderthal to just mope around the cave; rather than go out on the savannah less than fully alert and get stomped by a mastodon or tusked by a sabertooth.

There was a good National Geographic article on Valentine's Day a couple of years back that discussed the mix of brain chemicals that are responsible for the initial heady, lusty, infatuation phase of head-over-heels kind of love as well as the long-haul, bonding, commitment and dedication kind of love.

The same way seeing a lover approach unleashes a wave of pleasurable brain chemistry, facing their permanent departure causes a reaction not at all unlike an addict's painful weaning. Nobody wants to feel abandoned.

What is moping around the cave like? One friend of mine who went through it said, "It saps the joy out of life."

Years ago, when I was presented with a divorce ultimatum after about a decade of marriage, it caught me by surprise and I couldn't sleep or eat. I just kept trying to think my way out of the dilemma, and I felt very trapped because I wasn't able to solve this Sudoku.

I phoned a friend and cried a bit. I called up the phone number that I had been given at work and they made an appointment for me to speak with a counselor. I recall well my first meeting. I sank into his couch, tired from days of little to no sleep and he asked, "What's up?"

I looked at my feet and mumbled, "I've taken denial to a whole new level."

He busted out laughing, and I smiled. Things started getting better from that point, but it was a long haul and I know there are others who are making this journey, so I'll share a few things I've learned on the way. If they help you, great. If not, you'll know about them and may be able to offer a helping hand to someone you care about.

First of all, and this surprised me, it is a medical doctor who helps people who are depressed. They have a quiz with something like 20 or 40 questions. I guess happy people tend to answer questions one way, and sad people answer them another way. It is all a matter of perspective. One of those "half full" or "half empty" kind of things

The doctor may determine that there is a chemical imbalance (think of it as not enough vitamin C causing scurvy ... the makeup of our body is dependent on the interaction of many substances), and if there is an imbalance they may offer a prescription. There are a lot of different prescriptions, and they do slightly different things, so one may be better than another for any given individual. One person who holds opinions I regard highly said getting a prescription for depression is like treating the symptom, and it might be better to treat the cause. I'll just say that if the symptoms are too far progressed, sometimes it can be hard to start addressing the cause; so, whatever works for you is what you should try.

Here's the good news. The human brain is regrowing connections throughout our entire lives, and by exercising the brain we can grow new connections and create new opportunities. If you want to be good at math, do math every day. If you want to be good at relationships, go find a friend, family member, or counselor and work on it. The technical term, I think, is talk therapy. Or, read a book or watch an educational video or DVD.

It is certainly better than bottling it up inside. That causes ulcers and decreases immune system function, which in turn leads to more illness, which can make one even more depressed. The upward or downward motions are both self-reinforcing, so try to set yourself in motion in the direction you wish to go.

There are many ways to create or boost a positive mood. Many of us have tried to cheer up a friend, coworker or family member. Use the same strategy to cheer yourself up. Some things work for about everyone, others may be specific to an individual but I'm going to list a bunch of things that I have learned about that may work for you and your friends ... and the more of these you can string together, the happier you will be.

* Exercise. Perhaps it is to prevent fatigue and the pain of aching muscles, but the body releases natural painkillers and mood enhancers into your system during exercise. It also boosts the immune system. And, if it gives you some ripped abs that's gonna be a plus as well.

* Sleep. Did you ever see a child get cranky when it was past bedtime? It is no different for an adult.

* Sunshine. Sunlight causes chemical reactions in our body, and good ones at that. We may not be plants, but sunshine is needed to stay healthy and happy. Go out for an early morning walk and start the day off right.

* Scents. Perfume, cologne, incense, a clean cat litter box, don't leave dead fish in the living room, there are all sorts of levels to which one can take this idea. Maybe the scent of an evergreen at Christmas was a special thing, or baking chocolate chip cookies, or cinnamon sprinkled on food. I once heard that if you want to sell your house, just bake an apple pie an hour before the prospective buyers come through. Hey, if it can sell a house, it must be influencing moods, right?

* Food. I don't just mean chocolate, though the chemicals reactions of chocolate on the brain are legendary. I mean things you might not normally associate with healthy brain activity and a positive mindset: olives, avocado, salmon or mackerel, yogurt, cheese, poultry, eggs, bananas, peanuts. There are scientific and medical explanations for all of these, but I won't start drawing diagrams here ... I just wanted to let you know these foods have some positive benefits.

* Sex and drugs and rock and roll. Well, two out of three, anyway. No alcohol, it just messes up whatever you've got going on naturally. Sex boosts mood, and hugs are a prolonged mood-enhancer. Human contact is a good thing. Also, surely there's some music you can imagine will put a smile on your face. Maybe Dixieland Jazz, or a John Phillip Sousa march, or the William Tell Overture, or that theme song from Hawaii Five-O. Whatever. A favorite Beatles tune, or some New Age music with lots of wind chimes, or the sound of a splashing brook in the forest. Find something you like, and get away from the sirens and traffic noise.

* Help others, accomplish a small task, clean up your room. Any of these things can be a good thing. Volunteer a few hours at a local charity or event. You might just meet some fun people, or put a smile on someone else's face. What goes 'round comes 'round. If the house is a mess and it seems overwhelming, don't beat yourself up over it, but set a reasonable, small goal ... like, "I'll wash that one window I like to sit beside." Then take a moment to sit down and enjoy the view!