It’s Not a Ba Ba Ba Ba Barn Swallow

I’ll start out this post with a great big SIGH.  When it comes to birds, I’ve developed some tricks over the years that help me out in the identification phase.  These aids include capturing as many angles as I can, focusing on any unusual characteristics it might possesses and making sure to take a few snaps at any birds in the vicinity.  Generally one of these will get me in the right ballpark and then it is just a matter of a little reading to narrow the two or three options to the right one… or rather the one I’m going with – ID are never guaranteed around here at LifeIntrigued and always graciously  welcome a discussion should a reader come up with a differing opinion.  Today’s post happens to be one of those situations where most of the tricks FAILED to deliver a quick  answer.  In fact, most of this month has been spent debating back and forth between all the reference manuals on my library shelf and any bird sites on the Internet that had something to say on the subject.  No reason to keep this a mystery any longer.  Again, heralding out of Henderson Nevada’s Bird Viewing Preserve we bring you a new bird to blog.

This particular bird does have some unique features that should have made it very easy to identify.  First and foremost, the long black beak seems like it should have narrowed the field significantly in itself.    Turns out there a few birds that fit this characteristic.

  • Common Sandpiper
  • Green Sandpiper
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Eastern Willet
  • Western Willet
  • Stilt Sandpiper
  • Short Billed Dowitcher
  • Long Billed Dowitcher
  • Yellowlegs
  • Dunlin
  • Curlew Sandpiper
  • Barn Swallow

I was not expecting a starting list this long.  Realizing this was not going to be as easy as expected, I settled into processing mode.  Okay, sticking with the bill, there is a definite downward curvature that should provide some list thinning

Hit the jump to continue following along with the identification process.. and see more pics!

Continue reading It’s Not a Ba Ba Ba Ba Barn Swallow

Book Recollection: World Peace

Eeesh, this is a little embarrassing.  Apparently, I have not had a book recollection post since December of 2012 – that being Drop Dead Healthy (link here).  I have been reading, but I ended up getting caught up in a technical book which tends to be very consuming.  Reading items that don’t require a lot of retention can be parsed through pretty quick, but those requiring some validation of premise or a need to sink data into long term memory take a little more care and feeding (at least for me).  Not sure when I was going to make it through the other book, I made a small detour to a book my furry kids got me for Father’s Day.  Thanks to a destination decision for the 4th of July this year I was able to devour this book in no time.  So with no further delay, I would like to introduce you to World Peach and Other 4th Grade Achievements.  Kind of a catchy title don’t you think?  This book by John Hunter came to my attention thanks to an NPR interview which had John on as a guest.  He was brought on to explain a teaching mechanism he had developed called the World Peace Game – an interesting teaching approach he utilizes on his 4th and 5th grade students over something like 35 years.

I have always been kind of interested in different approaches to teaching .. regardless of age.  Something is definitely wrong with America’s education system evident by young adults that can’t make change at local restaurants and now high profile cases with witnesses that cannot make a coherent sentence or even read cursive writing.  I definitely do NOT have the silver bullet to fix this, but it seems obvious to me something has to CHANGE.  At first more rigid testing seems logical but then I read Freakonomics and learned how the Chicago corruption gamed the system.  Then there’s the other side that advocates for cuddle schools and want to bath the students in only positive actions and god forbid any red markers!  I guarantee you the latter is not the answer.  John has taken something more creative to the education system.  His game immerses students in an artificial world made of nations, a banking system, world organizations (UN) and various sects (religious, green etc.), arms dealers and even an overseer of weather and odds based outcomes that crop up during game play .  The game takes place on a plexiglass environments representing earth, water, air and even space.  The core objective is to resolve a tangled web of 50 crisis while increasing the assets of all the countries involved.  This is the part that intrigued me.  Here we have 4th and 5th graders dealing with adult level issue and global concerns in a fun,  interactive and truly collaborative setting.  No little circles to fill out with a number two pencil or regurgitating the word of the day.  Nope, these kids are electing cabinets, managing a country’s budget, establishing treaties and making decisions that have deep ramifications on the entire progression of the game.  In my opinion, there is a LOT to like about this – applied education which I’ve always advocated and looked for when involved in recruiting/hiring activities for my employer.  Unfortunately, we have to wait a while before these students will make it into the corporate world but looking back this would have been a significant improvement over my personal education experience.

After listening to the NPR interview, I stumbled upon John’s TED talk where he went through additional details of the game.  If you get a chance, check out that presentation, it is quite impressive.  John is one of those soft spoken individuals that has a true passion to see his students succeed.  John has a slightly different perspective on life than I admittedly possess – more open compassion for humanity which not surprisingly allows John to proclaim he is both a beatnik and a pacifist.  A lot of the latter was honed in his participation in Far East philosophies.  Generally I would be concerned that this personal belief would become an overpowering influence in the classroom which I am very wary of – insert examples of socialist educators planting garbage in the fertile minds of high school and college kids.  John’s approach is different than expected, he is not an active participant in the game preferring to let the students come to conclusions on their own and only interjecting questions and concepts to consider when an issue might arise where the kids either might act to hastily or not consider all the implications when dealing with a situation.  John believes there is a common process for learning consisting of the following phases – Overload/Confusion, Failure, Personal Understanding, Collaboration, Click, Flow and then Application of Understanding.  Based on my experiences and observations, this is very similar to the corporate world where one is faced with problems without known answers (think Engineering and IT Architect disciplines if you need examples).  Here we have 4th and 5th graders being exposed to this where there are some that make it out of college completely oblivious to what it takes to be successful in life.

The aspect of the book that really gripped me above and beyond all the things to like about the concept, was his “book of truth” err bible if you will that was leveraged as a guiding light through the course of the game.  I’d ask you to guess what this might be for the Game of Peace, but doubt you would even come close.  The answer is the Art of War by Sun Tzu.  Having spent a lot of my free time in the past learning martial arts and the associated philosophies, I too am very familiar with this  instructional manual – although admittedly I’ve lost some of the detail over the years.  So here we have a pacifist leveraging the authoritative tome on war to drive concepts in a game focused on compassion and peace.  Quite fascinating again another reason to like this approach – before anyone not familiar with the concepts in this book starts going off that this has no right to be in our school system (especially at that level) need to to spend some time reading it (or at least the referenced passages in John’s book) before proclaiming their ignorance to others.

I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read.  As alluded to earlier, we decided to go early to a 4th of July fireworks display event which provided a good 3 hours of non-stop reading which is a very rare opportunity these days.  John’s is on to something here and looking forward to see how that plays out now that his TED talk and the new documentary on it is gaining some exposure.  Will our education system embrace a method that teaches our children real world techniques are continue to wallow in standardized tests?  The ending chapter on their trip to the Pentagon was very informative both in tidbits learned about that place and the fact that an organization devoted to the war machine took time out to answer very probing questions from the students who had recently been through the Game of Peace experience.  If there is one thing that would have improved this book, it would have been additional interviews of adults who played this game.  I really wanted to know how it shaped their life, what they thought of the experience looking back and if my premise of them being better equipped to take on day to day challenges is valid.  John had a small sampling (maybe 2 or 3), but more would have left me more satisfied.

I give this book two thumbs up both from the way John introduces and takes the reader through the principles in the game.  As you can probably tell, I’m a proponent of the message and wouldn’t mind a few world leaders being forced to spend some time in a 4th grade classroom and participate in the game as well – maybe they would learn something that could make them more successful at actually being LEADERS.

Give it a read, or check out the TED presentation – if you have an open mind you will not be disappointed.

Hit the jump to read about my key takeaways.

Continue reading Book Recollection: World Peace

A Pied Surprise

I’m fresh off another successful Bix@6! I wasn’t exactly feeling at the top of my game at the start, but made it through at a fairly good time for a training run (2 minutes faster than usual). Typically I come in 4 to 5 minutes slower than I do on actual race day. Always seemed a little odd to me but this year I figured out why – I took the phone with me this year (sans headphones – it isn’t really a closed course – no reason to take unnecessary risks), so the RunKeeper app kept me (and everyone around me hehehe) informed of the pace and distance. To my surprise, the 6-course is LONG. Not by a mile like the Chicago Marathon, but a few tenths enough to explain some of the time difference. I’m sure the rest of the time is due to adrenaline from being out there with 17K plus others. Not sure what to expect at the moment from the actual race, but the faster Bix@6 might just be a good sign – now if I can just get the cloud gods to cooperate again!

Are you getting the picture (pun intended) the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve is quite awesome when it comes to the diversity of birds available for photographing? At this point it is a little hard to rank this spot as my favorite thanks to the number of checks it has given me on the bird list or instead a lagoon in Florida where we were able to see less variety, but the larger species. Note, there is more to come of the Florida shoot but for now let’s spend some time with ANOTHER new bird from Henderson.

Anybody want to take a stab at what this interesting little waterfowl might be? No cheating by image hovering, but the post title might give a hint. Honestly, I thought this bird was simply a juvi of one of the other birds that were near it, but upon further research believe this to be a species unto its own. Better yet, a species that I can now check off my bird list. With the aid of the Stokes Field Guide, I was able to match the first two pictures with the adult Winter plumage of the Pied-Billed Grebe. The region matches up perfectly with our location and time frame so pretty confident the classification is correct.  True to the old adage, I got the water beading up on the duck’s (er Grebe’s) back.  Not to mention I was able to put a cross body shot in the tin as well.

Hit the jump to read a few interesting facts about this chicken beaked Grebe

Continue reading A Pied Surprise

A Sparrow I Can Actually Identify

For the record, I’d like to proclaim that it is currently miserable outside. I know this because I had to complete a training run tonight and by mile 2 I looked liked I had taken a swim in the local pool. The truck temp gauge registered 84 but if that was true the humidity must have been adding at least 20 degrees to the “feels like” temp. The remaining 3 miles (a short run tonight) eventually dripped by. At least the body is finally getting some heat conditioning for the upcoming Bix7 race. I mention this primarily because hot days like this remind me of Vegas – we were once there in the 114 to 117 degree range – and when I think of Vegas the memories of the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve now quickly follow. Keeping the string alive, here is ANOTHER new bird for the checklist. Ironically, this happens to be a bird that is local for us .. in fact, one of those birds that typically gets ignored because it is a member of the Sparrow family.

Typically, this translates to a brown and gray bird, medium to small sized with white highlights adorning the wing feathering. Unfortunately, there are at least 20 different species of Sparrows that look nearly identical. Followers of this blog will probably remember cases where a shot of these birds is simply referred to as … a Sparrow. Taking the time to figure out what it is exactly is not a good use of time because after all it is really just a Sparrow. When this adult was spotted hanging out in the brush it looked distinct enough to give a go at classifying it. That meant it was worth taking a few shots – the composition looked appealing as well, especially since it was giving the classic cross body pose (above) that typifies my personal style. Of the three shots, the first one is my favorite with the nicely blurred background and glint in the eye.

This is one of those birds that tends to look quite different depending on your viewing angle. You can really see the crown on the top of the head when looking at it straight on, but from the side it tends to provide a more common domed profile as in the shot below.

Hit the jump to read a little more about this new bird to the Blog

Continue reading A Sparrow I Can Actually Identify

A Bad Day to be a Shoveler

Greetings everyone. I am currently under the influence of my new deep tissue foot massager I just purchased with my 2nd place finish gift certificate (link here). As a result, I cannot be held accountable for the contents of this post because quite frankly, this feels quite yummy and might just dose off from time to time. Honestly, this thing is awesome! My main hope is it will help relieve some heel pain I’ve been dealing with since the Steamboat Race. A fellow runner at work recommended it so figured I’d give it a go00…zzzzzzzz … Sorry, dozed a bit.

Today we are back at the Henderson Nevada Bird Viewing Preserve, but this time our primary subject doesn’t come with feathers or a beak. Turns out we were greeted with another resident in the area, one we were admittedly not expecting in the least.

Surprise! This Coyote crept up on us mid-morning while we were heading out to an observation platform built on one of the Henderson ponds. We were checking out some birds hanging out on one side of the raised walkway oblivious to the fact this natural born killer was stalking us from the other side. The color palette of this creature blended perfectly into the surroundings and if it wouldn’t have moved slightly I would have likely never seen it. Before the Beast could draw a bead on it (and thanks to taking the time to excitedly explain my find to Linda), the Coyote slinked back into the brush. Curious we started tracking it from the platform where it eventually popped into view again having traversed directly under it. Probably less than 20 yards away, it turned back at us – standing its ground against our unappreciated intrusion.

As you can tell, it seemed truly pissed off! A quick look around confirmed we were the only ones out in preserve at the time which gets you to wondering if you were “take out” that day. This was going to be a little difficult if that was the intent because it didn’t appear to be “packing” – as in there wasn’t any other pack mates in the vicinity and it wasn’t sporting a holster we could see. In my excitement I failed to really take in the composition of the shot. 5 feet to the left would have helped the shots tremendously – note to self, composition, composition composition. This Coyote would walk a few feet, look back at us, walk a few feet, look back at us, veer off in a different direction, look back, return to the original direction and look back. This was getting pretty weird. Eventually it found its way behind a thick brush concealing most of what it was doing. All we could tell was that it was digging in the ground. A few minutes later it revealed its motivation.

Hit the jump to reveal the mystery

Continue reading A Bad Day to be a Shoveler

A Noncommittal Diver

Happy 4th of July everyone!  Hopefully you live in a state that trusts it’s serfs to know how to handle fire and thus can enjoy the holiday as it was meant to be – as opposed to some of us who are subject to state administrations that is more worried about someone lighting a firecracker than they are passing a budget that keeps the state out of debt — but I digress.  In celebration of our independence from an oppressive government (hmmm starting to sound ironically familiar)… I bring you another great find at the Henderson Nevada Wildlife Viewing Preserve.  This bird immediately brings to mind all the festive colors we typically associate with our proud country.

Ummm okay, maybe not.  Actually it doesn’t even seem to be that well associated to Independence Day now that I take another gander at it.  Well, it sounded good anyway (editor’s note, for the record, it does look like it is “independent” in the since that it is alone – that way if I was for some reason to be called in front of a Congressional hearing I can say I was telling the truth unlike the Head of Intelligence who conveniently claims he “forgot” about the Patriot Act as his excuse for lying under oath – sorry, more digression).  So, you are probably thinking this specimen is a Redhead Duck because that is exactly what I thought it was when I came up on it enjoying one of the ponds.  It wasn’t until a few minutes ago that I realized that initial assumption was wrong.  Based on validation with all my references, I have changed my classification to … a Canvasback.  The Redhead and the Canvasback have almost identical color schemes – brownish heads and black highlighting at the same locations, but they differ in  few key areas.  First of all, the Redhead has a body feathering that is more gray contrasted with the Canvasback which has a much brighter/whiter coloring.  A closer look at the beak also show differences with the Canvasback being pointier and darker instead of the blunter and more stylized bill sported by the other duck.  They do have nearly identical region maps, but based on the other factors my money is on a Canvasback.  For the detailed oriented people out there, the Canvasback is about 2 inches longer and a little larger weight wise, but that is impossible to distinguish in the field.

Hit the jump read more about the Canvasback!

Continue reading A Noncommittal Diver