Sunday, October 28, 2012

hoo hoo

For seven weeks, beginning with the first week in October, a group of enthusiastic scientists and volunteers gather deep into the restless woods of the Pennsylvania mountains from dusk until midnight.   They forego the luxury of a heated building, warm bed and a full night's sleep in order to accomplish their primary objective- to catch the saw-whet owls.  
Ann, the bird bander for the night, retrieving the saw-whet from the bag so she can obtain her data.
These little ladies, no bigger than eight inches in height and close to the robin in weight, were once considered a rare bird in Pennsylvania.  However, after sixteen years of researching Pennsylvania's smallest and most secretive owl, scientists have been able to further understand their physiology, migration patterns, and ecology.  And much to their delight, scientists have learned that the saw-whet is more common in this area then originally thought.
Ann banding this owl
counting feathers
By luring the saw-whets into nylon bird nets (this is done by using a recorded saw-whet's call that is amplified from speakers connected to an iPod located within a camouflaged ice-cooler) the scientists are able to place a numbered aluminum band around one of the saw-whet's feet. This band number is then recorded into a book containing further data about the particular bird that is caught- weight, age, wing span, eye color, fat, bill length, etc.

keeping things straight
Once all of the necessary data is recorded, the saw-whet gets to have her picture taken for her adoption certificate, she might also have a transmitter placed on her back in order to keep track of her whereabouts for the next seventy-nine days (she'll bite off the transmitter on her own), and then she is released back into the woods- unharmed.
posing for the camera in the photographer's grip
adjusting transmitter
Mr. Reporter and I have had three nights to work with the owls so far, as volunteers. Initially, I thought that we would simply be there to observe- especially considering that we have absolutely no experience with the saw-whets. I should have known better. On the second night (our first night brought no owls), we learned quickly that our hands were needed just as much as our eyes as we were carefully shown how to remove the owls from the nets, as well as hold them in the photographer's grip for their picture.

Ack!!  That was my initial thought when I was asked ever nonchalantly by Scott, the master bander and top researcher on the project, if I'd ever removed an owl from the net.  When I told him that no, I hadn't, he just looked at me and without a second's hesitation said,"Well, let's get started".   The saw-whet wasn't tangled too badly in the net (sometimes they get wrapped up into two net pockets at a time) and with his help, I was able to remove the netting from the talons, wings and head.  Scott was then quickly asked to administer his help in removing the other bird that was more badly tangled.  As the five us stood around the little bird, wearing our head flashlights, watching Scott work, I couldn't help but think of the amount of patience and discomfort that comes from both the owl and the capturer in order to obtain the data.

The saw-whet usually just hangs motionless in the net, waiting to be freed.  When she does make a sound, it sounds like someone cracking their knuckles (a sign of aggression) or she'll make a whimpering sound- a sign that she's hurt.  Scientists and volunteers don't like to hear this one.  No one wants a hurt bird.

We have two more nights with the owls before the year long wait to meet up with them again.  I asked Mr. Reporter what he liked best about this experience and his response was (not surprisingly) releasing them from the nets.  For me, this experience has been an adventure into the unknown.  We didn't know anything about these little owls before we met them.  And to be able to see them up close, handle them, and become acquainted with their little sounds; to learn from scientists and volunteers whose enthusiasm and love for the owls is contagious; well, it's like falling in love with a new pet.  Only these pets don't belong to me.  The experience does though.  And it's one I'll never forget.

* You can adopt your very own saw-whet by going to this website.  All of the proceeds further the funding of this project.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


A little bee hitched a ride on the windshield 
of our 1996 Geo Prizm one sunny afternoon.

The air was honey crisp sweet and the elms stood sentinel,  
as quivering leaves of gold scattered between the obedient cars
lined up in single file along the side of the road.

Her busy antennas investigated the uncommonly bug-free glass, 
a replacement for the six inch hairline crack that tended to taunt 
the front seat passenger.  

As we zipped along in third gear up Progress Avenue, 
the news delivered over WITF informed that the heating 
costs were expected to be higher this winter.
So we watched and held our breath until the wind exhaled
and whisked the little bee away.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

summer knitting

Ok.  I'll admit it.  I am not a year round knitter.  But believe me, I've tried.  There are books out there, blogs out there, and yarn shops out there that encourage and entice knitters from all over the globe to keep their knitting needles clinking even through the sultry month of August.  And I know this can be done.

There are summer knitting patterns- beautiful shawls and sweaters requiring only light feathery yarns to help the knitter forget that the temperatures are rising into the triple digits outside.  Sock patterns, because of their portability and breezy fingering weight, seduce the knitter into thinking that they can take their project along with them into the woods and knit beside the campfire underneath the Big Dipper and the Milky Way.  And for the last three years, I've earnestly tried to be one of them.  Those dedicated, die-hard knitters that finish all of their Christmas gifts over the summer months- so that when the frosty chill begins to settle into the air as the remaining days of summer drop off like dying flies on the window sill, their fingers will be warmed by the fair isle mitts they finished in July.

I do not belong to this universe- the one with steady and stress-free preparatory measure.  By the time Autumn arrives, I'm scrambling to get thirteen or so knitting projects started (yes, I know this is a tad bit excessive) in the one hundred and twenty days before Christmas- an aspiration that ultimately leaves me feeling guilt ridden and discouraged when the holiday deadline finally comes... and goes.  The truth is that once the spring bulbs and yellow forsythia start unfolding into bloom, my mind turns from the clickety click of the knitting needles to the vegetable garden and dirt. And well, dirt and yarn don't marry up very well- what can I say?

So here is the only summer project I was able to complete this year.  The yarn was purchased in June from The Lancaster Yarn Shop in Intercourse, Pa while my nieces were visiting from Arizona.  It was Mr. Tailor's turn for a pair of socks and he got to have his pick of whatever skein he wanted.  He selected the Schoppel Zauberball  which the store owner said was dyed by a local artist.  In July, I packed my knitting needles in with the rest of our luggage as our family made our way up to Canada.  It was on this trip that I finished the first sock- being careful to measure each of Mr. Tailor's toes to get the right length.  In August, the socks were completely forgotten and by September they were finally done.  And that's about how it went.

The free pattern is by Lana Grossa and the only adjustment I made was to switch from size 2 needles to  size 1 needles when knitting up the toes.  Mr. Tailor wears those funny looking Vibram Five Fingers shoes and I wanted to make sure that the toes would fit inside the shoe properly- which they do.

I believe that the best feature about these little toasties is that they make it possible to wear flip flops year round while keeping the toes nice and warm. Now that's a year round practice I can handle.