Monday, December 31, 2007

Alternative Commute Resolutions

I have never actually made new years resolutions before and am not likely to start now. I have, however made resolutions at other times of the year. A few years ago I resolved to change my commuting habits to be more friendly for the environment.  I have achieved great success in this area.

For 2007 here are my statistics:

  • Rode the bus - 129 times
  • Telecommuted - 48 times
  • Bicycled - 18 times
  • Drove a single occupancy vehicle - 8 times.

I am reasonably pleased with these results. I would, of course, like the bike riding to be higher and the driving to be lower. The car dependency were primarily for errands, a couple of volunteer activities, and to travel to offsite alternative transportation meetings which occur at  location that public transportation doesn't serve (yeah, it seems crazy to me too).

Many people feel that alternative transportation is an inconvenience. It also doesn't serve all locations. For me it serves me well and I have grown very accustomed to its many conveniences. My work is 8 miles from my house. It is just under a 1 mile walk to the bus stop and then a straight shot on the bus to my work. While it consumes more time than driving, all of that time is beneficial, while little time spent driving is considered such. Here are some of the specific advantages that I have realized:

  • Better for the environment.  I am actually walking the talk on issue which I champion.
  • Listen to books on tape, podcasts, and college coursework on my ipod.  I am much more able to concentrate than while driving.
  • Less stress. When I do drive to work I get frustrated with the traffic which I don't even notice on the bus.
  • Financial - sold one of our cars, insurance rates decreased (one less car and lower annual mileage on existing car), gas, maintenance, etc.
  • Health - close to 2 miles a day of additional walking. This could be a negative as I sometimes have to walk on busy streets where the air pollution is very poor and cars are always trying to kill you (walking or cycling).

So if you are considering a new years resolution, think about alternative transportation. One you start it's hard to go back.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day Birding

Karyn and I were spending Christmas with just ourselves this year. We had celebrated with family the day before as they all had other commitments for Christmas day.

Christmas morning presented us with some bright sunshine here in Boise. I had been hoping for some great sunshine the last few times we went out birdwatching. Today would be the day. After breakfast and entertaining the cat wit her new toys, we headed out along the Boise River for photography and bird watching. The weather was a beautiful 29 degrees (F) with little or no breeze. The sunshine was perfect for photography. As soon as we got on the river we found these Common Mergansers. (click on image to see a larger version).
Its fun to watch the Mergansers fishing. They swim upstream with their heads under the water looking for fish. A female Belted Kingfisher was fishing nearby, but I just wasn't able to get the shot I wanted. Further down the river was the first of many Great Blue Herons. This one was more than willing to pose for us.
The others were perched in trees. Three in one group and a number of individuals here and there along our 4 mile hike. We were really hoping to find some Bald Eagles today. We have struck out the last two times we have hiked the river. Today we would not be disappointed.
This was the first of at least two we would see today (we saw three, but believe one was a repeat).
Further down the trail we would find a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I would move through the brush to get a better shot, but I never put it together. The large frozen pond in front of the Hawk would prevent me from getting too close. I got some photos good enough for identification, but nothing special. The next special raptor sighting was what we thought was a couple of Rough-legged Hawks (My friends on the IBLE List have verified that these are Red-tailed Hawks instead of Rough-legged Hawks. IBLE=Idaho Birders Linked Electronically). The first bird was perched in a tree. I was taking photos when it started to fly, so I snapped a shot. I didn't actually see the second Hawk coming in to chase it from its perch.
The lower Hawk in the picture is swooping in to attack the upper bird. Its not the clearest photo, but a great action shot. The original Hawk stayed on its perch after the attack and then flew off to a nearby tree as you can see in this photo.
I accidentally clipped this shot as I snapped the photo, but I liked the rounded form as it cupped the air for lift. There were lots of other great birds out there today as well, but these were the highlights. What a great way to spend a Christmas day. I hope yours was fruitful as well. Have a great holiday!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Idaho Wolf Plan

The Idaho wolf plan from the Idaho Fish and Game Department is out for public comment. They will be accepting comments until December 31. Listed below are the various ways to submit comments. I submitted mine through the online web forum. I would have liked a little better confirmation that the comments were actually received, but I liked the fact that it captured comments in specific areas of the plan.  This in theory will enable them to more closely align the comments with the specific areas of the plan in which they are targeted. Here are the possible ways to submit comments:

The main points that I made are:

We have not yet reached the carrying capacity for wolves in the state.  Since we currently have greater than 700 wolves in the state, the capacity is somewhat higher than this. The only management numbers identified in the proposal is to lower the population to close to 104 wolves. This would be less than 15% of the carrying capacity. One of the "objectives" of the plan is to allow wolves to fulfill their ecological role in the ecosystem. 15% or less of the carrying capacity will mean that we will get at most 15% of the benefit, but probably lower. To truly gain ecosystem wide advantage a population much closer to the carrying capacity would be required.  I believe the limit to be greater than 80% of the carrying capacity.

Another of the objectives stated in the plan is to promote populations in border areas so that populations can intermix with populations in other states and to disperse to new states. To reasonably accomplish this, those populations would have to be maintained near the carrying capacity.  Competition with other wolves is a primary reason for wolf dispersals into other areas. 104 wolves is way too few to accomplish this objective.

Two of the objectives stated in the plan relate directly to hunting. The first is to allow hunting of wolves and the second is to allow multiple different ways of hunting wolves. These seem entirely inappropriate for a management plan.  Hunting should be a tool in the plan, but not an objective of the plan.

Another objective in the plan is to use hunting to minimize conflicts with other wildlife and with livestock. This objective clearly points out the bias in the plan.   The fish and game believe that elk must be protected from wolves.  These two creatures co-evolved together for thousands of years, yet we believe that we must interfere.  We need these two creatures to maintain their own ecosystem balance without our interference. I do support hunting to decrease conflicts with livestock with some exceptions.  First, I do not believe that wolves should be killed for killing livestock on public lands. This is a risk that livestock managers should face for using all of our lands. The ecosystems on our public lands are critical and we must return the health of the ecosystem by enabling the keystone predator to take its full position (full carrying capacity).

My overall suggestion for the plan is to let the wolf population grow until we discover the true carrying capacity of the state.  We can then enable hunting along the edges of public land to decrease conflicts with livestock on private land.   The total population of wolves should not be allowed to drop below 80% of the total carrying capacity.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Early Season Skiing

The weather in Idaho has not been conducive to a great nordic ski season so far.  The first major storm, which would have jump started the season, came through a bit too warm. We have received snowfall since then, but it is still thin in McCall and Sun Valley, and non-existent at Bogus Basin near Boise.  With that said, I do have 4 ski days in so far, all of them in Sun Valley. This is the least amount of early season skiing I have had in the past 8 years. Last year at this time I had 10 days in! I should note that had I been willing to travel out of state for the Thanksgiving break, my numbers would definitely look better.

The first day skiing was the day after Thanksgiving. Karyn and I met some friends in Sun Valley to ski on the very thin base. It was definitely "rock ski" weather as the gravel mixed into the snow caused significant damage to the bases of our skis. The first few kilometers of the season are always a bit rough as your muscles work to recover the memory of the ski motions. After a few kilometers your form starts to develop and the fun begins. Then at about 10 to 15 kilometers your body starts its revolt. The shoulders tense up, lower back starts to ache, and form starts to degrade. It takes focus to keep it together. I finished the 24km exhausted. It was a very successful first day out!  The snow was even thinner the second day out.  We decided not to ski on the final day of the weekend as the snow was too thin and we were two tired from our first two days on snow.

This last weekend we returned to Sun Valley.  They had received 10-15 inches more snow since our first visit. Much more of the trail system had been groomed in.  We chose a fairly flat section to work on some steady distance. The sky was crystal clear and the snow was just right. It was awesome. On our second day, the temperature was a very chilly 7 degrees below zero (F)! This made the snow crystal sharper and slower requiring significantly more effort. The cold temperature wasn't a big deal as we had the right gear. It only took a kilometer or two for our lungs to adapt.

The bad news is that both of my shoulder joints have been bothering me during and after skiing. This getting old kind of sucks. I hope I can work through it during the next few weeks.   I have three big races that I am targeting for this ski season. The first is a 36km race in Bend Oregon called the Great Nordeen. I have skied in this race once before. The second is the 32km Boulder Mountain Tour in Sun Valley. This race is usually the biggest event that I participate in.  The last, which I will enter only if my fitness is in top shape, is the Masters World Championships being held this year in McCall Idaho. The Masters Worlds have a 45km and a 30km race that I would consider entering. I have no expectations of placing in any of these events, just completing the events with a strong personal performance. For now, we must wish for snow.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Another Pedestrian Killed

What is it with traffic in the Boise area these days? This morning another person was killed by a car. That brings the 2 month accident total in the valley to at least 7, with 5 fatalities! This morning it was a three year old child. I am not implying that each case was the fault of the drivers, but in at least two of the cases drugs and alcohol were involved (by the drivers not the pedestrians) and arrests have been made.

Dec 5 - Child hit by car. Killed.
Dec 2 - Woman killed in intersection.
Nov 30 - Woman killed in intersection.
Nov 29 - Four-year-old girl hit, killed.
Nov 28 - Construction worker hit by car (injured)
Nov 26 - Car strikes 12-year old after running light.
Oct 19 - Woman bicyclist killed while waiting for a stop light.

One possible explanation, although I don't buy it: Police think gas prices increasing the number of pedestrians.

As a cyclist and pedestrian myself, this has certainly captured my attention. I am a lot more alert as I walk to and from the bus each day. Just this morning I was crossing in the cross walk with a walk signal as a car turning toward me crossed my path as if I wasn't even there. I had to step back out of his way. I wasn't surprised to see him talking on his cell phone.

Update:
Another accident:
Dec 7: Girl, 13, hit by car, appears to be OK

Update:
Dec 14 - 14 year old boy on bike hit by car - boy cited.
Dec 15 - 16 year old woman hit by car, driver cited.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Grateful

This is the time of year when many people express thanks for what they are grateful for. I am not usually one to jump at these types of activities, but a few recent events got me in the mood.

The first is, as I have mentioned in a previous post, that I have linked up with a number of old friends through online social networks. This has caused some reminicing and exposed me to some of their writings. Some of the writings have been quite inspirational for me. My previous blog post on influencial people also stirred up some thoughts in this area. But the biggest motivator of all to put this post together was my yoga instructor in yesterday morning's class. During the final pose of the class he talked of focusing our energy on the positive. To search out the positive seeds within our body. As I went for a run later in the day, I thought about this advice and decided to write this post.

Don't worry, my cynical engineering mind is not going to let this blog evolve into a continuing sappy lovefest.

Things I am grateful for:

  • I am grateful to my parents for getting me started in a good direction.
  • I am grateful to my older brother for providing me inspiration.
  • I am grateful that I have had great opportunities in my life.
  • I am grateful that I have had a good education.
  • I am grateful that I have been healthy.
  • I am grateful that my life has been surrounded by great people who I can call my friends.
  • I am grateful that I have re-connected with some old friends.
  • I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to help endangered species.
  • I am grateful that I have made a positive difference in people's lives.
  • I am grateful for every day I spend in the mountains.
  • I am grateful for every wild thing I see.
  • Most important of all, I am grateful to my lovely wife Karyn, who has put up with me, shares in my experiences, has made me a better person, and provides daily meaning to my life.

As a tribute to her, I dug up an old story that I wrote back in the year 2000. Its called First Date and describes our early days together, now over 16 years ago.

What seems like an eternity ago, I met the chortler (Karyn). She was working a part time job at my place of employment while completing her art degree at Boise State University. I worked up the nerve to ask her out for a first date. Being the chortler, she could not give me the psychological advantage of accepting my first request. She conjured up a lousy excuse that a friend was getting married out of town. She claims to this day that this story was true. As it would end up, she did not go to a wedding, she went to a funeral instead.

The very next week, being somewhat masochistic in nature, I decided to ask again. This time she used the work excuse. She claimed to have a night job at the bank. It would have been easier if she had just told me to stop asking. Insistent on teaching her a lesson, I decided to ask again. As luck would have it, I happened to pick the one night which she had not yet committed to other activities. She said, "Yes."

The official date was an outdoor Shakespeare play. I had acquired our picnic dinner, and bought her a single rose. To this day the memory remains. She still reminds me of this thoughtful gesture, "You used to bring me flowers!"

The play was proceeding nicely until the thunderstorm passed through. As the rain began to fall, I contemplated the possibility that this was a sign. In hindsight...

We survived the weather. The play was great. At the end of the play the actors came onto the stage and applauded the audience for persevering the conditions. I drove the chortler to her apartment where she asked if I wanted to come up stairs. I contemplated this for a fraction of a nano-second before replying, "YES!" (No it's not that kind of date! This story is rated PG!)

We continued to ignore our better judgment, as we agreed to continue seeing each other. We sat in the park until the sprinklers came on, we rode mountain bikes between Karyn's jobs, and then came the time for the first overnighter. I invited Karyn to go camping with myself and some friends. After pointing out that we would be sleeping in separate sleeping bags, she agreed. I told you that this was PG!

Since Karyn had to work Friday night, I went up alone. The plan was to meet in downtown Fairfield at noon on Saturday. Others camping with us were a friend of mine from College, Dola, and one of my college professors. A number of us went out for a morning mountain bike ride. The trip was fairly uneventful until I was following Gary up a steep technical section. His bike had lower gears than mine which allowed him to ride more slowly. I was struggling to keep my balance. On my right was a steep drop off down to the river, some 50 feet below. If Gary would only speed up. He didn't. I hit a rock on the left side of the trail bouncing my front wheel to the right and over the rocky edge. I dove to the left to grab a rock with my left hand. My right hand remained on the handlebars of the bike as it dangled over the rocky edge. My water bottle bounced three times before splashing in the river below. Gary continued up the trail oblivious to my perils. Doug, riding behind me came up to my rescue. All turned out ok, except for my right mountain bike shoe. In the crash I tore the cleat from the base of my shoe leaving a large gaping hole in the bottom. It also made it impossible to clip my foot into my pedals. We rode a little further until we found two moose standing in the trail. They refused to yield. Since my time was running out, and the stubborn beasts would not give way, we turned back toward camp. I jumped in my vehicle and drove faster than I should to get to Fairfield on time. Karyn still claims I was late, but I know better.

That afternoon Karyn, Dola, and I decided to go for a short mountain bike ride. The chosen route, included an uphill on a logging road with a 2 mile decent next to a river. After riding the uphill section we turned off on what resembled a trail. The trail descended steeply down to the river, where it appeared that we needed to cross. We wait as Dola carefully removed his shoes and socks to cross the river. After we crossed we waited for Dola to put his shoes and socks back on. The going was rough as we were dragging our bikes through the dense brush. Realizing that this trip could take longer than planned, I tried to encourage the group to make better time. Soon, we arrived at another river crossing. Dola once again removed his shoes and socks for the crossing. The light was starting to fade. We were then walking through a large section of downed trees. As I moved more quickly through the brush, Dola and Karyn lagged behind. They were talking between themselves regarding my leadership abilities. I suspected mutiny. Dola and Karyn were clearly plotting against me. The question was asked on more than one occasion if I truly knew where we were going. I pushed them more to make more forward progress. At that point I had determined that my relationship with Karyn was over. There was no way that we could recover. I had made a critical mistake my choosing this 'trail'.

As I knew it would, the trail took us to the main road back to camp. We arrived back in camp just before dark. To my surprise, Karyn did not hold the trail choice against me. The mutiny was over. Little did she know that this would not be the last adventure we would have together.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Influential People

When I started this blog I thought of adding a sequence of posts highlighting influential people in my life. Well, nearly two years have passed and I haven't started it yet. Its about time! This is the first post in a sequence on this topic.

The topic of most influential is a very difficult proposition as different people have played very different roles at different points in my life. It is also hard to nominate anyone as more influential than your parents as they had near exclusive influence during those most impressionable child development years. Karyn, my wife, has notably had a very significant and positive influence through our years of daily co-dependence. Excluding these relationships, I would like to nominate the "most influential" to an individual who I respect very deeply, who played a critical role in my life at a critical point of time. That individual was my high school football coach - Coach Lutero.

I first need to qualify this article by saying that I was not the best football player. In fact, I was at best average among all of the players on the team. Regardless, Coach Lutero demonstrated true leadership, caring, and personal commitment to myself as well as many others, football players and non-players alike.

What impresses me most about Coach Lutero is that he not only held a position of leadership, but demonstrated it through his actions on a daily basis. The world could use a few more leaders like him. I'll provide you a few specific examples of this leadership.

The most important lesson I learned from Coach Lutero was about giving people a chance. I remember a new kid moved into town. He had been in trouble in the past and came from a broken family. His path through school was not destined for success. This kid wasn't a football player, but coach mentored him regardless. He gave him a position helping with the team. And he arranged for me to give him a ride home after practice and events. This of course, was not something I was overly excited about, as he wasn't "cool". Coach then mentored me on the importance of giving people a chance, and that is what I did. I wish this story had a happy ending for the kid, but it doesn't. After the time invested by the coach and a number of additional chances, the kid drifted away. What didn't drift away was the lesson for me. I was very impressed about Coach's willingness to invest the time in an individual which provided little benefit back to him, other than knowing that he made a difference.

Coach was very connected within our high school. I went to a school with about 350 students, so it wasn't too difficult to do so. I was still amazed about how much he knew about what went on there (I am sure that his daughters weren't overly impressed by this!). Whenever I would get into trouble, which on occasion occurred, Coach would take me aside and have a discussion about it. He wouldn't tell me that I was wrong, but instead asked me to compare my actions against my values and commitments. He didn't have to invest this time, but it definitely limited the trouble that I got into. I know that I wasn't the only person who received this mentoring.

Coach also tutored individuals in their studies. Before school or lunchtime, it didn't matter. He was constantly challenging people to do more, to learn more, and to apply themselves more. I remember he kept pushing me to apply to the best universities in the country. Having no idea what I wanted to do, I ignored his input and went to a local school. I remember once when I was home on break he asked how school was going. After informing him that I was having no difficulties, he interrupted me and asked why then I was wasting my time there. He encouraged me to once again transfer to a more difficult school. This time I listened and made the change that had the single most profound positive impact on the direction of my life.

I wish I had been more mature to receive these lessons at the time. I was not. But most importantly, they stuck with me since then. I think and act on them often. I owe a great deal to Coach Lutero as I expect many others do as well.

The last time I saw Coach was at my fathers funeral 15 years ago. It meant a great deal to me that he came. I think it is about time that I get back in touch with him.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thanksgiving Reality

A college friend of mine, Marina, writes a daily blog of short stories and poetry. I am a big fan of much of her work, but was particularly moved by a recent timely post about Thanksgiving Dinner.  I have reposted it here with her permission, but I encourage you to take a look at all of her work at the link below. Something to think about as we head into the holiday season.

Thanksgiving Dinner
The roar of a crackling fire.
The smell of wet leaves and wood smoke.
A nip from the bottle
Helps you forget the chill
The salvation army handed out warm coats
And socks today.
Soon it will be time to line up
For food and prayers.
Families drive by, terrified more
Only by the prospect of death.

Here is her MySpace blog - http://www.myspace.com/marina_jane.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cost of War in Iraq and Afghanistan

The Washington Post has an interesting article today on the costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new estimate is nearly double the official spending as it includes higher oil prices, expense of treating injured soldiers, and paying interest on the debt. What is the estimated cost for the taxpayer? The cost for a family of four is in excess of $20,000!  Unbelievable!

Of course, this is almost entirely funded through debt, so the impact on our future generations is huge. I would also point out that this increased number still does not include all of the costs of this war. A few of my examples that I did not see included in the report:

  • The decreased stature of the United States in the world for launching an unjust war in Iraq. This is impacting our economy, our ability to promote democracy in the world, our ability to use our values to influence peace, etc.
  • The future security costs associated with the rise of terrorism specifically spawned by our unjust war in Iraq.
  • The costs of other developments that have occurred in the world while we have been distracted in Iraq.

I am sure there are many other costs as well. When will we look at these costs and our failed Iraq strategy and determine we have thrown enough down the drain? When will we realize the world is less safe as a result of our actions? When will we realize that it is time to change our course to a more positive direction? I hope for ourselves and the world, that answer to these questions is soon.

Thanks to ThinkProgress for the link.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

College Connections via Social Networks

I recently connected with a number of college friends via a social network - LinkedIn (BTW, my LinkedIn profile can be accessed here). I found the responses very interesting and somewhat humorous. No guarantee that you will agree.

I knew each of the individuals reasonably well, although I wasn't extremely close to any of them. I sent a similar greeting to each of them, but the responses were very telling, and matched very closely to my expectations. The audience was two women and one guy. The guy's response was what I would expect from a guy - three sentences - one saying thanks for contacting him, one saying he was doing fine, and one question back to me. What else would you expect? The two women's responses were very much in line with their personalities as I knew them nearly 20 years ago. One was deep, contemplative, and much more personal in nature which matches her quiet and calm demeanor. The other was frantic and hectic - some words in ALL CAPS, many and multiple exclamation marks!!!, and multiple question marks???. This also matches her personality. I had to laugh at the contrast between the three responses. It was also telling that while I haven't interacted with some of these individuals in 15 years, the structure of the responses was right in line with what I expected.

I am sure that email communication and social network communication/connections are providing deep research opportunities for psychologists, sociologists and social anthropologists.  I think the real challenge for the researchers to get a complete picture is to bridge all of the various social networks, blogs, email, IM, and then direct communication (does anyone really do this anymore?). More and more aggregation services are becoming available, but each one in turn introduces more options to the equation.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Upcoming Legislative Priorities

Governor Butch Otter,

Senator Mike Burkett,

Representative Anne Pasley-Struat,

Representative Nicole LeFavour

In advance of the upcoming legislative session I wanted to express my personal priorities to you, my representatives in the Idaho State government. As with all of my communication, if you would like to follow up with me, or ask me to volunteer to work on any of the described issues, please feel free to contact me.

1. Transit - The Treasure Valley is in desperate need of funding for public transportation. The continued decline of the valley's air quality, the increase in traffic congestion, and the decreased efficiency of all forms of transportation are but a few critical reasons that this should be addressed. An increase in funding for public transportation can lead a significant increase in ridership and economic development advantages as it has in Reno, Spokane, Salt Lake City, and Portland. I have tracked this issue for some time and am aware of the objections from representatives not from the Treasure Valley. While I am sympathetic to those concerns, I have the following response. The health of the state of Idaho is dependent upon the health of our metropolitan centers. Reasonable proposals have been made to address the concerns of those outside the valley while also providing the funding.  Fundamentally I believe that public transportation should be funded partially at a state wide level as it has state wide benefits and partially at a local level where most of the benefit will be realized. At a minimum the local option must be available. My preference is to pay for public transportation through the combination of payroll taxes and an increase in the gasoline tax. These methods have been very successful in other communities across the nation.  I acknowledge the near constitutional impossibility of accomplishing a gas tax increase for public transportation.  I therefore endorse the Coalition for Regional Public Transportation's proposed legislation of a sales tax increase for public transportation and local road projects. If this proposal is unacceptable, please work to find one that is.

2. Global Warming - Global warming is an issue that is at least contributed to by each of our actions.  The result also effects us all daily.  The health and prosperity of all citizens is at risk. I believe that actions are required at a global, national, state, local, and individual levels. There are significant actions which could be taken at a state level that would help with our contribution and show our commitment to be part of the global community. Actions could range from personal massaging from the governor encouraging a change in lifestyle, education programs, incentives to decrease energy use, alternative energy installation  incentives, R&D incentives for alternative energy technologies, or any combination of these. It is time that the state shows some leadership on this issue.

3. Protection of wild lands and wildlife - Our wild lands and wildlife are the most precious assets within our state. The biodiversity in our state is extraordinary in the United States and the world. Significant measures should be taken to protect these resources and maintain healthy ecosystems. State investment is required to increase preservation, to increase enforcement of the laws protecting these resources, and shifting the state toward economies and values which allow us to co-exist with nature instead of destroying it.

4. Property Taxes - Stop lowering property taxes! The shift of tax burden from property tax to sales tax is not appropriate.  Many of our most expensive services are tied to the property we choose to own. Thus it is most fair to apply the tax for those services onto the property in which they serve.   What we see in this state is wealthy individuals purchasing large land and houses then lobbying to shift the tax burden to those that are more efficient with our resources. If someone chooses to buy an expensive house that requires expensive services, they should be prepared to pay for them. Shifting this burden to sales tax is negatively effecting the poor, students, and those with a greater sense of social responsibility. Its just not right. I do believe there are some issues with the property tax system, specifically as it applies to the poor and elderly. Thus I do support tying the property tax exemption to land value inflation.

Pet Peeves

The following are items that I often wished would be addressed in legislation, but I am realistic enough to know that the effort would not be applied.

1. Leaf Blowers - I view leaf blowers as the most ridiculous invention and believe that they should be banned. They are a significant source of pollution - air pollution, chemical pollution, and noise pollution. They are very inefficient in their processing of fuels making them a top producer of exhaust. We should remember that more fuel is spilled refueling lawn equipment in America per year than the entire Exxon Valdez oil spill. The noise pollution is much more obvious as you can hear these devices many blocks away. Leaf blowers also provide minimal advantage over the manual method of using a rake. Its time that we look at these issues from a society perspective instead of our individual preferences.

2. Phone books - I don't use a phone book, but I  have the honor of picking up 4 to 8 of them per year off of my front step.  I then must take them to a local recycling facility for disposal. This is a tremendous waste of our natural resources and my time. Why do we allow companies to litter our yards in this manner? Citizens should at least have the legal opportunity to request a stop to this delivery as we do with direct mail.

This letter will be posted on my public blog at http://wolf21m.blogspot.com/ . If you choose to reply to this letter, please let me know if your reply can also be posted on my blog. If you don't specify, I will assume that you grant such permission. I, of course, will honor you specified preference.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

In the Valley of the Wolves

The Nature program, In the Valley of the Wolves, air this Sunday night on PBS (at least here in Idaho). The movie trailer included at the above link shows some amazing footage of wolves and other wildlife. It also features an interview with the filmmaker Bob Landis. I highly recommend you watch as Bob's work is amazing.

The movie trailer talks of Bob's dedication to filming, over 300 days a year for 4 years! I can attest to that fact that Bob has been out there filming on every occasion that I have been in Yellowstone National Park. I've watched some of his raw footage which is simply spectacular. This promises to be the best of his films on the Yellowstone wolves (this is his 3rd film on wolves).

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Costa Rica Birdwatching

October 13 - Off to Costa Rica!

Karyn and I have planned this trip to Costa Rica for months. We have been studying Spanish, and now we are on our way to Costa Rica. We plan to spend 2 weeks there.

We have hired AVEnTOURS Costa Rica for the first half of our trip. They specialize in birding tours. The plan is to link up with our guide from AVEnTOURS in San Jose and spend the first 8 days with them bird watching various parts of the country. We will then fly to the Corcovado rainforest for 4 days, primarily depending upon local guides. From there we will return to San Jose. We don't have anything planned for the last few days before our return home.

The flights were uneventful until about 15 minutes before we were to land in San Jose Costa Rica. The captain informed us that the airport was closed due to a storm. This trip is scheduled during the rainy season so we hope this is not a sign of things to come. We circled and circled. Would they reroute us to Panama or Northern Costa Rica? How would we link up with our guide? After an hour went by, we were the first plane to land in San Jose after re-opening the runways. Woo hoo!

We met up with our private guide from AVEnTOURS, Jorge, and our driver, Luis. Off to an excellent dinner before checking into our hotel. Our guide seems very knowledgeable. The hotel accommodations were also top rate, although we would not be spending much time there as we leave at 5:30 in the morning for Tortuguero. We go to sleep pleased with our choice of tour companies.

October 14 - San Jose to Tortuguero

Up very early to meet up with Jorge and Luis. Just outside the hotel we stop to see two Blue-Crowned Mot Mots. Wow, Jorge seems very knowledgeable indeed. We would drive 3 hours and then take a hour and a half boat ride. A short time into the drive we stop to see some parrots, which we missed, but just then a cool Roadside Hawk arrived to pose for the camera. Later on we stopped for 5 Keel-billed Toucans! Jorge was amazing being able to quickly identify every bird we saw. Karyn mentioned that we were interested in seeing Dart frogs. Jorge adjusted the schedule for a quick hike before breakfast where we did indeed find two Blue Jean Dart Frogs!
Blue Jean Dart Frog (Poisonous)
He said that he hoped we would see a sloth before the boat ride, and he delivered - a Three Toed Sloth in a tree! At the dock we met up to share a boat ride with another large tour group.
Three Toed Sloth
It wasn't bad but we did not get to sit with Jorge so we missed some of the bird identifications. The boat ride was very nice however - lots of Herons, Egrets, some Rosaette Spoonbiils, Anhingas, etc. We arrived in Tuertoguerra just in time for lunch. Wow, 30 birds on my list for the day with over 25 new to me bird species, all before lunch! The Mumbawa Lodge is very nice. After a short siesta in the afternoon we took a boat ride down to the town of Tortuguero. Jorge explained the history of the town as we watched for birds in the trees. We saw many more birds as we made our way to the beach. After visiting the turtle center at the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, we walked back to our hotel along the beach. Just before arriving we found one straggler sea turtle hatchling making its way to the water. We escorted it on its way into the surf. Jorge's timing on this tour has been great. Back to the hotel for a great dinner before turning in early to try and catch up on sleep. 37 bird species for the day and we didn't even do any real focused birdwatching.

October 15 - Tortuguero

Green Heron

Up early to catch the boat before the other tour groups go out. This morning we would tour some of the canals around Turtoguerro.
Caiman
Jorge has hired us a private boat. The driver was very experienced guiding the boat in close to wildlife without disturbing it. We saw tons of birds - many types of Herons, Falcons, Parrots, etc. We saw Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, and three Caimans! It was beautiful. All before breakfast! After breakfast we took another boat ride up to the national park for some hiking. Jorge is very knowledgeable in medicial plants.
Northern Jacana
He explains the many uses of various plants we find on the hike. There were lots of Spider and Howler Monkeys. One Spider Monkey had a new born possible albino baby holding onto its side as it worked its way through the trees. We watched in amazement as leaf cutter ants carried their bounty along the trail back to their nest. We only found one snake, a Blood Snake, but did find lots of mosquitoes! Along the beach someone told us about some turtle hatchlings. We walked out to see them. What we found was disgusting. Someone had dug up the hatchlings before they were ready, essentially committing them to death. What a waste caused by ignorance. We completed our hike and returned back for lunch. Just as we were entering the food line, our boat driver came to tell Jorge of a turtle nest hatching near the hotel. We went out to watch the full emergence!
Green Sea Turtle
50 or so little turtles running for the surf. A Common Blackhawk swooped down and took one. A sand crab grabbed another, but our boat driver jumped in to the rescue. This one and the rest would make it! What an awesome experience to watch. They were so committed to reach the water. Just another highlight in an amazing day and its only lunch time!
After our short siestas we took the boat out onto the canals to the north. Call it the Kingfisher and Toucan tour. Three types of kingfishers (Amazon, Green, and Ringed) and three types of Toucans (Keel-billed, Chestnut-mandibled, and Collared Ara├žari).
Keel-billed Toucan
We also saw parrots (white crowned and Red-lored). Many other birds as well. Mammals included Spider Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, and another Three Toed Sloth. Then there were Jesus Lizards and Iguanas. It is quite a day. A boat to ourselves with two excellent guides (Jorge and the driver). The private boat is the way to go. Over 50 different bird species. This day will be tough to beat.

October 16 - Tortuguero to Arenal

Up early to catch our plane. We would be flying from Tortugero back to San Jose. We arrived at the airport, a simple pavement strip with a small building, just before our plane arrived. After it landed we were informed by the pilots that San Jose airport was closed due to bad weather. We would have to wait it out. During our wait we found numerous birds to watch around the airstrip. Walking onto the beach we discovered some new shore birds. A little over an hour passed before the pilots told us it was time to go. It was a quick flight back to San Jose where Luis our driver was waiting for us. In the van we decided to take the scenic route to Arenal in the hopes for more birds.
Brown Violet-ear
More birds indeed! We stopped at a small shop that had hummingbird feeders in back with fruit set up for the bigger birds. The balcony overlooked a huge canyon with the largest waterfall in Costa Rica. It was a spectacular view, but the birds were amazing.
Golden-hooded Tanager
Seven species of Hummingbirds and tons of other birds - Emerald Toucanet, Red-legged Honeycreeper, three types of Tanagers, two types of woodpeckers, and the list goes on. The owner simply asked for a dollar donation per person. We added a little extra.

Driving on from there we spied some Kites and some Hawks before stopping for lunch. At the lunch restaurant the staff placed plantain (similar to a banana) out on sticks by our table. The birds swarmed in for lunch, three different Tanagers and some Parakeets. It was fun to watch as we ate a great lunch. After lunch we walked around the grounds of the restaurant/lodge. Many more birds. Karyn found an Armadillo.
Nine-banded Armadillo
We also watched a Green Kingfisher catch a huge fish. It was beating it against a log over and over. It looked way to big for the small bird to eat. As we left the Kingfisher was still working at it. Closer in to our final destination we spied a great Gray Hawk perched in a tree. What a great sight. The rain started again. It seems to align well with our schedules so far as most of our birding was done for the day. We finally arrived at our hotel for the next three nights. The Arenal Lodge is high on a hill overlooking the Arenal volcano. It is a beautiful setting for birds and far from the road and the traffic. The lodge is once again much nicer than we had expected. It continued to rain off and on through the evening providing occasions views of the volcano. Over 67 bird species today. Travelling through multiple regions definitely help increase the number of unique species.

October 17 - Arenal

We awoke to the sound of Howler Monkeys.
Arenal Volcano
Not long after that there was a large rumbling from the volcano. We watched as the smoke plumes exited the top of the mountain. We had great views from our room in the hotel. What a great morning.

We birded along the hanging bridges trail in the morning. This two mile trail winds steaply through the forest and crosses several high suspension bridges. The hike took us a little over three hours as we were watching lots of birds along the way. Jorge interjected facts about medicinal plants along the way.
Karyn and Jorge on Hanging Bridge
This is definitely a hike I would recommend for birding and for general sightseeing. We added lots of new birds ot our list. We even found one bird that was new for our guide, a Spotted Antbird. He was very excited. Of course, we have found over 120 birds that are new to us! Jorge spotted a Orange-kneed Tarantual hiding in a hole. We could only see its legs though. While we were hiking, Luis our driver, found our first poisonous snake, a Eyelash Palm Pitviper. It was waiting for us in a tree when we arrived back at the trailhead.
Eyelash Palm Pitviper
It was posing for us to take photos. It was getting more agitated by our presence so we decided to move on. Just before arriving at lunch, the downpour began. It was raining very hard. It continued raining through the evening.

In the late afternoon Karyn and I were dropped off at the volcano hot springs. This is a very expensive place, but it was also very cool. They had many pools and waterfalls in a natural setting. You could sit under the falls and let the water crash down on top of you, or just sit near the edge. The higher on the hill you went, the warmer the water. We checked out five of the different pools as we worked our way up stream. It was a fun experience.

At dinner we learned that the Costa Rica is in a state of national emergency. The massive rains have caused flooding across the Pacific region. While we have been little effected so far (a few delayed flights), we are concerned as our trip moves more and more Westward. The people of Costa Rica could definitely use some drier whether! At dinner we continued our Spanish lesson with Jorge and Luis. They are very patient with helping us.

In our hotel room we find a frog climbing the outside of the glass to catch bugs. Very cool.

Neither one of us slept too well tonight. Something in the dinner didn't settle well with us. Hopefully it is temporary. We haven't started the antibiotics yet...

October 18 - Arenal

At breakfast we watched the birds in the garden. We also saw some peccaries (similar to a wild pigs) cross the field below us. Moments later a Tayra crossed the field as well. A Tyra is a very large member of the weasel family. Black in color with a very long tail. It turns out that the hotel feeds the Tayra which is why it was out in the open.

Todays agenda started with bird watching on the trail at the hotel. The trail was about 2 miles long. Lots of new birds today. Jorge continued to amaze us with his ability to call in specific birds. He would hear their call and then try to call them in closer. Many times he was successful. One particular bird he was not aware of. We worked it for a while to bring it in closer so that we could identify it. It turned out to be a juvenile Spectacled Antpita. We would hear others throughout the hike.

After the hike we headed into town for lunch. That is when the downpour began. Similar to yesterday it dumped rain very hard. We watched on news in the restaurant to see the flooding to our west. Many towns are being destroyed.

The chicken soup for lunch did the trick. Karyn and are were both feeling fine after lunch. After lunch the weather started to clear up. We proceed toward the volcano to hike near the base. Lots of new birds along the road to the trailhead. There were not many birds on the volcano hike, but it did provide great vistas of hot molten rocks rolling down off of the volcano. One interesting item on the hike was a water tarantula.
Water Tarantula
This spider lives in a plant that captures water, When you approach the spider it dives down into the water. It was very cool.
Water Tarantula
After the hike we decided to take a back road to look for more birds. It was excellent. We climbed a hill and were rewarded by eye level views of Toucans, two types of Parrots, and a pair of Great Curasows! We finished the trail just about dark. Driving back to the hotel we saw one more amazing bird. A Common Pauraque was in the driveway of the hotel. The bird froze in the headlights. Jorge then called it in closer. It flew just a few feet in front of us and then landed about 10 feet away, illuminated by the headlights. Very cool. We all practiced the call over the next few days.

Yesterday we hand washed our laundry in the hotel room. It has been hanging to dry, but it is not drying. The air is so humid here. We had thought about using the laundry service at the hotel, but they don't handle synthetic fabrics. I guess we will be wearing wet clothes for a while.

We had a few more spanish lessons at dinner then Jorge told us some stories about birds. The stories were legends passed down to him by his father. It is fascinating to hear about his life.

October 19 - Arenal to Monteverde

Breakfast was great watching the birds on the feeders. 15 bird species from our breakfast table with a new species for the trip. Very enjoyable.

Today we had the long drive from Arenal to Monteverde. It isn't that long in distance, but the road into Monteverde is very rough. The last 30 kilometers takes three hours.

We stopped a few times along the way to bird watch.
White Hawk
White Hawk, Laughing Falcon, and Parrots. Not bad for a trip where we didn't expect to see too much. The best of all was a Crested Caracara.
Crested Caracara
Jorge had never seen one in this area before, it was of course a new bird for Karyn and I. I walked closer to take some pictures. As I was walking back the male arrived and mated with the female. I missed it! Karyn and Jorge didn't. Pretty amazing timing.

I lost my hat at the last hotel so we stopped and bought me a Guanacaste Cowboy hat in a small town. We ate lunch in the last town before hitting the gravel road. It started to rain again. Hard at times. The road is very rough and getting worse with all of the rain. We were nearly stuck once. Karyn and I had to move back over the rear wheels and Luis had to make multiple attempts to get over the rough spots. In another area, most of the road was washed out, barely enough to squeeze by.
Laughing Falcon
On a lighter note, Jorge had purchased some snacks a few days earlier. He was slowly introducing us to some of the local foods. One snack was dried grapefruit (apparently different than our grapefruit). The first bite wasn't bad, the second a little worse, and the third was more than enough. Luis tried it and spit it out immediatety. He started a non-stop rant in Spanish. We didn't understand the words, but clearly understood what he was trying to communicate. We had to stop to get a drink and another snack to wash the taste from our mouths!
Juvenile Turkey Vulture
It would be a joke with him for the remainder of the trip. After 2 hours and 45 minutes we arrived on the smooth pavement of MonteVerde. Our Hotel, El Sapo Dorado (the golden toad (which is now extinct)), is beautiful. A secluded little cabin in the woods. It continued raining hard through the evening and night.

We talked to Jorge about adding a few days of guide service after we return from Corcovado. He is interested and will be putting together a proposal.

October 20 - Monteverde

It is still raining. We hear that the road we were planning to take back to San Jose tomorrow is closed due to a landslide. Of the three roads to Monteverde there appears to be only one road left open. It has probably rained a years worth of Idaho rain here in the last three or four days. The locals say that this is more rain than they have had since Hurricane Mitch hit them back in 1997.

But for now, the vacation goes on. This morning we will hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Before leaving on the hike, we visit the hummingbird center. We see a whopping 10 species of hummingbirds here. They were swarming the feeders all around us. It was pretty incredible.

The rain lightened a bit for our hike. We were looking for the signature bird, the Resplendent Quetzal. This isn't the best time to see them, but we kept and eye out anyway. The hike was beautiful through secondary and then primary cloud forest. It was very nice. On the way back out we were rewarded with a viewing of a Quetzal high in a tree above the trail.
Resplendent Quetzal
It was a juvenile male, just now growing the long signature feathers of an adult. On the drive back, Jorge found us a two toed Sloth. We have seen a number of three toed, but he had been looking for days for the less visible two toed.

Green Violet-ear
After lunch we visied a butterfly exhibit. The butterfly guide was from Salt Lake City. The exhibit provided information on butterflies in general, Costa Rican butterflies, and also so other insects. We watched as a live Owl Butterfly had just emerged from its chrysallis. It was just beginning to unfold its wings. In the insect area the tour guide showed us live tarantuals, scorpions, hercules beatles, leaf bugs, etc. The guide was very enthusiastic about the insects. We then toured 4 greenhouses each representing a different climate within Costa Rica and each had the representative butterflies for that climate.

We accepted Jorge's proposal for continuing his guide services after we return from Corcovado. We will be traveling to La Selva Biological Station to finish off our weeks in the country.

October 21 - Monteverde to San Jose

Due to the bad roads, our plan was to get out of town early and get on our way to San Jose. There were two points of good news, first it wasn't raining! The second was that the shortest road out of Monteverde was open again.

Turquoise-browned Motmot
We stopped once halfway down the hill to bird watch from the road. An amazing 5 new species in this one spot. Karyn found the most significant of all a Long-tailed Manakin!
Long-tailed Manakin
Not bad for 10 minutes watching from one location.

Jorge and Luis took us to Carara to look at the American Crocodiles.
American Crocodile
They were huge! Here we also saw the King Vulture soaring overhead. We topped the morning off with lunch at a beach side resturant.

After lunch it started raining hard again. Since the TransAmerican highway was still closed due to landslides, we had to take a back road. The road had way too much traffic for its size and there was a large accident that blocked the road for about 30 minutes. We finally made it safely into San Jose to our hotel at about 4pm.

This concluded the official part of our tour with AVEnTOURS, but we have arranged to tour for three more days with Jorge after our return from Corcovado. They did an amazing job and we are very pleased with the tour. We said goodbye to Luis as he won't be joining us later in the week. Jorge promised to meet us at the airport in four days when we return. We fly to Corovado first thing in the morning.

Before dark Karyn and I toured the beautful gardens of our hotel, the Hotel Bougainvillea. Beautiful flowers, lots of orchids, and a few birds including a Blue-crowned Mot-mot, one of our favorites from the trip.

October 22 - San Jose to Corcovado

Beautiful sunshine! Today we took a plane flight to the Cordcovado Lodge Tent Camp. We enjoyed the breakfast at the hotel watching a Blue-crowned Motmot in the gardens. The Corcovado people picked us up and transported us to the airport. We squeaked through on the 25 pound weight limit for our gear. The pilot chose me to ride up front as his co-pilot. Luckily I didn't have to take the controls! We had a great flight over taking about a hour.
Scarlet Mccaw
As we approached the airport I looked out at eye level on Magnificent Frigatebirds. A Mangrove Blackhawk cross the runway in front of us as we were landing. Two Scarley McCaws looked on from a tree nearby.

Scarlet Mccaw
We chose Corcovado for its great birds and wildlife. It was looking good so far. Once we exited the plane it was a 30 minute walk up the beach to the tent camp. About 100 meters up the beach we had to wade a small but fast moving river, swollen from the recent rains. Safely across we spied a humpback whale a few hundred meters off shore. Very cool. During the rest of the hike we saw White-faced Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, and a number of Coati. This is going to be a great place.

The tent camp consists of 16 permanent tents equiped with full beds. Just think of it as soft shelled hotel room. We are the only tourists at the camp. Lunch was great, with the wait staff dedicated to us. They provide a fixed plate service so we were unsure what we would get. Some of the online reviews indiciated that they didn't serve much food. Definitely not the case. A four course meal that was way too much to eat.

After lunch we decided to hike the trail behind the camp. We saw a spider monkey, some neat lizards and a Green and Black Poison Dart Frog.
Rob (Me!) on the deck
About 15 minutes in it started to rain. We had not brought along our rain gear so we returned to camp to wait out the rain. Sitting on the front deck of our tent we watch numerous Scarlet McCaws, then a roadside Hawk, then two Yellow-headed Caracaras land in the tree nearby. This last was a new bird for us. Not a bad afternoon. Tomorrow we hope to take a full day hike with a local guide into the Corcovado National Park.

Dinner was another four course affair. We definitely aren't losing weight on this trip.

October 23 - Corcovado

Mangrove Blackhawk
After breakfast we joined up with our local guide for the hike in the Corcovado National Park. The hike would be seven miles in length with one mile of beach hiking and the rest on trails. Our guide was very knowledgable about the area and was very good at spotting wildlife. He is still learning the birds, so we had more work identifying birds than during the time traveling with Jorge.
Coati
We did identify a number of new birds for us and saw lots of wildlife - Coatis, Peccories, an Acouti, spider monkeys, white faced monkeys, and two humpbacked whales. It was an excellent hike.

Brown Pelican
The weather was very nice, very hot and humid. The cold showers at the lodge felt great. No rain today until about 6pm, then there was only a few drops. We had expected this location to have the most rain of all.

After another big dinner, we went for a walk on the beach in the moonlight. We were hoping to find turtles, but no luck.

Spider Monkey
In filling out my bird checklist today I am up to 192 unique bird species identified since we have been in Costa Rica. Wow.

October 24 - Corcovado

Another beautiful sunrise in Corcovado. I walked out at 5:15am to see if I could find a Tapir that has been seen on the beach in the mornings. Not this morning. I did find a Bare-throated Tiger Heron fishing in the surf. Two Mangrove Blackhawks were standing nearby to try and steal anything that it caught.

This morning we are scheduled to go with a local guide up to a high tree platform in the forest canopy. Our guide from yesterday came along as well. The new guide, Theo, was more knowledgable with birds, but Eric, our guide from yesterday, could still spot them better.
White-faced Monkey
It was a good combination to have both along. A couple of young women interns also came along which had a tendancy to distract Eric most of the time. Once we hiked up to the ridge, we had to wait as a quick rain storm came through. We were then hoisted up onto a 25 meter platform into the canopy. We could see the ocean to the West and Corcovado National Park to the East. There were not a lot of birds in the canopy, but we did get good views of some King Vulturs, Double-Toothed Kites, a White Hawk, and a Swallowtail Kite. We finished our time in the platform watching a Chestnut Mandibled Toucan, one of our favorites. We were both amazed at how many butterflies there were up in the canopy. On the way back down off of the ridge we found a number of tiny frogs and a few Green and Black Dart Frogs.

White-faced Monkey
Most of the afternoon was spend relaxing around camp in the hot humid air. We took a couple more short hikes and then enjoyed the cold showers. Tomorrow we fly back to San Jose to meet up with Jorge. We will be staying in La Selva tomorrow night.

During the night it began to rain again.

October 25 - Corcovado to La Selva

It rained all night. We keep our fingers crossed that the plane would make it to pick us up. The manager of the tent camp said it was 50-50. At 8:45 we received word that the plane had left San Jose. We hope that it will stop in Carate to pick us up, otherwise it will continue to Puerto Jiminez and we will take a 2+ hour taxi ride to catch it. We hiked the 30 minutes to the narrow airstrip watching many birds along the way - King Vulture, Yellow-headed Caracara, Mangrove Blackhawks, etc. The plane arrived with ample visibility so it was able to land. A few minutes later we were in the air headed back to San Jose.

In San Jose we linked back up with Jorge from AVEnTOURS for our final three days. Jorge drove us to La Selva Biological Research Station. This station has recorded half of all bird species in Costa Rica at their site.
Collared Aracari
It might be that there are a large number of bird biologists here and they are really good at counting. Regardless, it should be great for birding. The Research station is primarily for students doing research but a limited number of tourists are accomodated. There are private rooms available, but all of the meals are included and are served up cafeteria style. Most of the students are from the United States. It would be great to know more about their research.

Green Honeycreeper
The research station is also located on the migration route for North American Raptors. Upon arriving at La Selva we looked up to see thousands of raptors flying overhead. Horizon to horizon was filled with North American raptors heading south.
North American Raptor Migration
I expected to see 100s not 1,000s. It was an incredible sight.

Before dinner we took a little walk to find some of the local birds Honeycreepers (Red legged and Green), many tanagers (golden hooded and passerine), and tons of Flycatchers. After dinner we found a few more Common Paruques.

October 26 - La Selva

After raining in the night we awoke to great weather. In fact today would be the first day of our visit to Costa Rica that we did not get rained on to some degree.

We started birding before breakfast. There were lots of intersting birds just outside of our rooms. But then we saw one of the two jewels of the day - 4 Great Green McCaws! There is believed to only be 22 breeding pairs left in the wild and we saw two of them! Amazing. Almost ten percent of the world population was flying over our heads at that moment. An awe inspiring site, but extremely sad at the same time. Note: Through internet research I could NOT confirm the 22 pairs number. Although the World Conservation Union lists the Great Green Mccaw as Endangered with declining population. Further footnotes indicate - "population size reduction of ≥ 50% over the last 10 years or three generations, whichever is the longer, where the reduction or its causes may not have ceased OR may not be understood OR may not be reversible". Regardless of the number, the outlook isn't good for the Great Green Mccaw.

After breakfast we joined a few other couples for a trip around La Selva. On the first day you must have a local guide. So Karyn, Jorge, and I joined up with 4 others and two local guides for some great birding. Lots of great birds that we had not yet seen. Then we saw the second jewel of the day for us which was a Great Potoo.
Great Potoo
Potoo's are very difficult to find as they camoflauge their body shape to look like a dead branch in a tree. This is probably the single bird on the entire trip that I was most excited to see. I would have been more excited for a Harpy Eagle, but we didn't see one of those.

While these two bird species were great highlights, there lots of other exciting birds to see and watch. We totaled 78 different species today. This is an amazing place. At dinner we were joined at our table by a visiting professor from Illinois State University. It was interesting to learn of his studies and what life is like at La Selva.

After dinner we went for a night walk through the forest. We didn't find anything too exciting like snakes, but did see many eyes watching us. Most were spiders and bugs, but one was a large mammal that we could not see to identify. Tomorrow we head back to San Jose after some birding in the morning.

October 27 - La Selva to San Jose

Another beautiful day. We had some good birding in the morning, although not much was new. The biggest result was seeing 3 pairs of Great Green McCaws fly over!
Endangered Great Green McCaws!
We also had some great views of a Rufous Tailed Jacana. After lunch we headed back to San Jose, stopping at a few points along the way. We checked into our hotel and said goodbye to Jorge. We consider him a tremendous guide and great friend. Our choice in AVEnTOURS was definitely a good one.

October 28 - San Jose - Home

Long nasty travel home.

Conclusions:

If you are interested in a bird oriented tour of Costa Rica I very highly recommend AVEnTOURS. I was very impressed with every aspect of my dealings with them.

Favorite place - Tortuguero! The canals are a unique way to see birds and wildlife. I suggest a private boat, most others had 30+ people in them. Also, chance to see turtles!

Second favorite place - La Selva. Greatest diversity of birds, great forests, variety of terrain. Nothing fancy in the accomodations, but clean and sufficient. Educational atmosphere is a plus. There is no tourism focus here.

Least favorite - Monteverde. AVEnTOURS discouraged including this in the tour, but we insisted. They were right. Too touristy. Takes most of a day to get there and another to get out. The forest was nice, but I don't think it was any nicer than the other forests. We did see the Quetzal there, but if I were doing it again, I would skip it.

Total bird species - 227: Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, Great Frigatebird, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Green Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, King Vulture, Osprey, Gray-headed Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, White-tailed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Barred Hawk, Semiplumbeous Hawk, White Hawk, Gray Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Mangrove BlackHawk, Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Plain Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Black Guan, Great Curassow, Semipalmated Plover, Northern Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Gull-billed Tern, Short-billed Pigeon, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Inca Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Olive-throated Parakeet, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Great Green Macaw, Scarlet Macaw, Orange-chinned Parakeet, White-crowned Parrot, White-fronted Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, Mealy Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Groove-billed Ani, Common Nighthawk, Common Pauraque, Great Potoo, White-collared Swift, Chestnut-collared Swift, Black Swift, Green Hermit, Long-billed Hermit, Little Hermit, Violet Sabrewing, Brown Violet-ear, Green Violet-ear, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Blue-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Green-crowned Brilliant, Purple-crowned Fairy, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Black-headed Trogan, Violaceous Trogon, Black-throated Trogon, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Resplendent Quetzal, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous Motmot, Broad-billed Motmot, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, White-necked Puffbird, White-whiskered Puffbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-headed Barbet, Prong-billed Barbet, Emerald Toucanet, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Fasciated Antshrike, Black-hoodedt Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Streak-chested Antpitta, Torrent Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Northern Bentbill, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Western Wood-Pewee, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Bright-rumped Attila, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Gray-capped Flycatcher, White-ringed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Masked Tityra, Black-crowned Tityra, White-collared Manakin, Long-tailed Manakin, Blue-crowned Manakin, Mangrove Vireo, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Brown Jay, Mangrove Swallow, Blue-and-white Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Band-backed Wren, Rufous-naped Wren, Bay Wren, Riverside Wren, Stripe-breasted Wren, Rufous-and-white Wren, Banded Wren, House Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, Clay-colored Robin, Tennessee Warbler, Tropical Parula, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Wilson's Warbler, Canada Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Rufous-capped Warbler, Three-striped Warbler, Buff-rumped Warbler, Bananaquit, Common Bush-Tanager, Black-and-yellow Tanager, White-throated Shrike-Tanager, White-lined Tanager, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Summer Tanager, Crimson-collared Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Olive-backed Euphonia, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Plain-colored Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grassquit, Variable Seedeater, White-collared Seedeater, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Black-striped Sparrow, White-eared Ground-Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Grayish Saltator, Buff-throated Saltator, Black-headed Saltator, Eastern Meadowlark, Melodious Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Bronzed Cowbird, Black-cowled Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Montezuma Oropendola, House Sparrow


This article featured in the I and the Bird #62 blog carnival. "I and the Bird remains the undisputed champion of blog carnivals concerning birding and wild birds on the planet. Our far flung collaboration is still the best way for nature bloggers everywhere to reach an engaged, intelligent audience." - Mike Bergin, Founder of "I and the Bird".

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Owl Banding

On Saturday night (and Sunday morning), Karyn and I joined our local Golden Eagle Audubon Society chapter on a field trip to the Idaho Bird Observatory. The Idaho Bird Observatory is considered an important birding location for the Audubon Society. The Idaho Bird Observatory is located at Lucky Peak (The actual peak, not the reservoir below it that most locals would think about when hearing the term). The peak is the southern most peak in the Boise front and is a critical junction for bird migration before they cross a large expanse of desert to the south. The IBO bands song birds, raptors and owls at the site. Last year we visited for the song bird banding. There is a summary of that trip on my blog at Idaho Bird Observatory - September 4, 2006.

The trip up to the observatory is a steep 4 wheel drive road that climbs 2500 feet in 6 miles. We met as a group at the bottom to carpool up the hill. A few planned to camp out at the observatory, while most, including ourselves, were just planning a late evening. We arrived at the observatory in early evening while it was still light. The biologists took us on a tour of the operation before diving into the hot pizza that our trip leader had brought to them. They were happy for the pizza as they live on the peak for most of the late summer and fall. The temperature was quite cool, made much cooler by the 15-20 mph steady winds hitting the peak. At 7:30pm the biologists raised the capture nets and turned on the audio simulating the call of the Northern Saw-whet Owl. The Saw-whet is the primary Owl they catch this time of year as their other species, the Flammulated Owl passed through weeks ago. Our trip was planned to coincide with the expected peak migration of the Saw-whet. It appears that our timing was correct as they had recently been catching 3-4 owls per night. The night before our trip, they banded a total of 13 birds.

At 9:30pm we made the first pass through the nets. There were no captured owls. To stay warm Karyn and I, along with another woman from the group, decided to take an hour long hike down the ridge road. Despite the wind it was a beautiful hike in the dark. There were lots of stars visible and the city provided enough ambient light so we could find our way through the dark. On the 11pm net run we found 4 owls! All four were Northern Saw-whet owls. The owls were brought back to the banding station where all of the scientific measurements were made. The biologists explained their processes and answered questions for the group. The birds were evaluated for age, sex, and health. Sex determination can only be determined through measurements and is only 95% accurate. DNA is another method, but the team was not taking blood samples. We appeared to have 3 females and 1 male, a mixture of hatch years (born this year), a second year, and a 2+ year old. Age is very difficult to determine as well on these birds. The oldest bird appeared to have feathers from three different molts. All of the birds were healthy with a couple of them rating high on the scale of muscle development. The muscle development not only indicates health but likely implies that the owl has already migrated a great distance developing those flight muscles further. Once all the measurements were taken the biologists would set the owl on someones arm to allow the owl to recover from all of the probing before flying off into the forest. It usually took a minute or two and on a couple of occasions resulted in the owl lightening its load just before flight! They then silently took to the air flying up to a branch in the tree above us before moving on their way. While the biologists would be working all night, it was past midnight so we decided to forgo the next net run and head home.

The owls are beautiful creatures, fascinating to watch. As usual the process brought about my concern for its intrusive nature. I wish we lived in a world where this intrusive process was not necessary. Unfortunately, with more than 20% of the bird species on the planet threatened or worse, increasing our education on individual species is critically important if we hope to help them survive the continued onslaught of human activity. With that said, the team of biologists were very professional doing everything possible to reduce the stress on the birds themselves while helping us to help them. In all it was a very enjoyable evening. The bird observatory is open to the public so go check it out!

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