26 January 2008

The Fish Wrapper

Some interesting events have unfolded in the last few days that might land my mug in the local newspaper. I was contacted Thursday by someone from the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitor's Bureau with an inquiry about the Moss Creek Nature Trail . She lives here in the neighborhood and had seen a little article on our community website that I submitted last November. The article was about the ebird.org website I've been using to submit my birding observations, and the fact that upon my suggestion our Nature Trail had been designated as a "Birding HotSpot". She apparently thought the designation was newsworthy, and the CVB mentioned it in the January edition of their e-Newsletter.

While it's hard to tell how much interest the newsletter generated among its target audience of meeting planners and hotel executives, it apparently fell into the hands of a regional reporter for The Charlotte Observer. The reporter called me yesterday and did a quick 15-minute interview, just getting background information on me and on the Trail. The plan is for a small article to be run in next Thursday's Cabarrus Neighbors section of the paper highlighting the hobby of bird watching and the Moss Creek Nature Trail as a formidable choice of locations to undertake it. They've got a photographer coming over Monday morning to accompany Lily and I to the Trail and hopefully get a few good pics of some of our local bird species. I think I'll schedule a haircut for myself between now and then, just in case the lens is pointed my way . . Mandi's already promised to pick out Lil's outfit for the day and told me she'll leave strict instructions on how I should fix her hair. You can rest assured I'll have a complete, unbiased review of the article posted early Thursday morning.

24 January 2008

Snatching Success From The Clutches of Failure

Our trip to Asheville last weekend was conceived with the intention of spending the afternoon on Saturday at Chimney Rock State Park hiking and exploring the wintering birds of the North Carolina mountains. As luck would have it, the snow fell just hard enough that afternoon to keep us off of the trails and confined to the car. We tried to do some walking at the North Carolina Arboretum, which was just down the road from our hotel, but the gusting wind proved too much for Mandi to take. Plan C was to leisurely drive the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while, but it had been closed down due to the weather. Certain that a failed day of bird watching was upon me, we made a last ditch effort and pulled in to a small park that was right next to the fast-flowing French Broad River. We sat for a few moments and watched as the White-throated Sparrows flitted about on the ground, when in the distance on a branch that reached out over the water Mandi spotted an unusual shape. We pulled forward through the mud puddles and got as close to the bank as we could without Mandi having to dig us out with a shovel, and through the lenses of our fogged-up binoculars we spied an Eastern Phoebe quietly picking through the leaves for his lunch. What I'd almost written off as a failed day of birding had just produced success, and we were able to head back to the hotel with a sense of unexpected accomplishment.

Later on in the weekend, after we came home to Concord, we ID'ed the Canvasback I'd been tipped to diving in the pond in front of the Concord Mills Mall. Mere minutes later we saw a Cooper's Hawk hiding in the low branches of a tree between an apartment building and the strip mall where our local Wild Birds Unlimited store is, as well as a Sharp-shinned Hawk circling high above. As difficult as the identification of these two species is usually said to be, these two particular individuals showed all of the clues to their identities with surprising accommodation. Four new species in one weekend added to the Big Year list was honestly more than I had hoped for, and I still had a walk on our Nature Trail planned for later that afternoon.

While this trip to the Trail didn't produce any new species for the list (it was a really bad time of day to go, but I couldn't help myself), it did yield one of the best photos I've ever taken of a bird in flight. This Great Blue Heron flew right past me at a distance of about 15 feet, and my camera responded perfectly as I snapped shots in rapid succession. While these herons are relatively common, their slow flight and striking size continue to provide some of the most amazing photos. I am planning on heading to the Coddle Creek Reservoir later this morning to try to identify some of the ducks and geese that I see frequently as I pass by. My instinct tells me that I'll see Ring-necked Ducks and perhaps Lesser Scaup, although I'm hoping to be surprised by others as well.

23 January 2008

Mission: Impossible?

We all know kids go through phases of behavior. Some have memorable names like "Terrible Twos" and "Troublesome Threes", while others are more vague and enigmatic. There's the "puts everything in sight into her mouth" phase, which is really quite understandable and not something we worry about. When they get older we expect the "interested in boys" phase and all the normal growing up stuff. There is one, however, that I was not at all prepared for . . one which currently is giving Mandi and I quite a cause for concern.

Without over-doing it on the details, Lily's usual routine at night goes as follows: dinner, bath, TV, story, bed. She's quite fond of that sequence and it seems to produce the best results with regard to her falling asleep quickly. So I do my best to stick to that sequence whenever possible. Sometimes, though, if dinner was too early or if other circumstances present themselves, I'll wait a while after dinner before taking her upstairs for her bath. Often this pause in the action will last 25 or 30 minutes, depending on what I've chosen to do in between. The first two or so times we did this it worked out well, giving me some time to regroup and Lily a little bonus play time. Recently though, it's taken an unsettling turn.

A few nights ago, with my mother in town and the whole routine in general disarray, we finished dinner early and Lil went to the playroom to kill some time before her Meema (my mom's self-given grandma nickname) was to take her upstairs for her bath. A few unusually quiet moments later she came traipsing back into the kitchen, naked as a jaybird. She had a huge grin on her face, and before our jaws finished bouncing off of the floor she proclaimed "I'm naked!" As if that wasn't enough, after Mandi made her best attempt at scolding her while struggling to hold back raucous laughter, she went back to the playroom and retrieved her broom-stick horse toy. She pushed its button to start the clickety-clackety-clomping sound, came galloping back into the kitchen with the horse between her knees and proudly shouted again "I'm naked! I love being naked!" Needless to say, it became futile to try to hold back our laughter at that point, although we wanted very badly not to reinforce this more-than-mildly disturbing behavior. When she left the room Mandi turned to me with the most serious look I'd seen on her face in days and said "Honey, your number one mission in life is gonna be to keep that kid off of the pole." I have to admit, I think she's probably right on the mark with that prediction, and I do not think it'll be an easy task. My mission, should I choose to accept it . . .

20 January 2008

Perception vs. Reality

The forecast this weekend was for between 1 and 3 inches of snow to fall in the Charlotte area, a total nearly triple what was recorded just days earlier. The snow plows were warmed up, every grocery store had been raided for bread and milk, and the city was ready for a long winter's nap. So what did Mandi and I decide to do? Drive to the mountains, of course, where it was sure to be colder and the accumulation would be nearly double. We'd been planning this trip to Asheville and Chimney Rock State Park for a few weeks now and we certainly weren't going to let a little thing like impassable highways stand in our way.

Recently, as in the last three or four years, the saying "Perception is reality" has become one of the more overused pieces of phrasiology in our culture. I'm guilty of it . . I used to use it nearly every day when I would explain to my staff at the restaurant that a guest's perception of their actions was all we could worry about, not what may have actually happened. Perception was reality in the world of "Guest Service" and it was just something we had to get over. Our trip to Asheville gave me a whole new take on the phrase, however.

As we walked around the historic Biltmore Village a little before the snow's forecasted arrival at noon, it was quite entertaining to hear the way the perception of the reality of the day's weather changed from shop to shop. We heard a patron at a fly fishing shop tell the clerk how he'd heard that the forecast was for as much as 6 inches of snow. He mentioned that he and his wife were going skiing later, so I'm sure that perception was what he wanted to happen. Later, a young girl in a kitchenwares store told her mom she'd heard it was supposed to be icy and cold. Then, as we left the last shop before heading to lunch we heard the over-zealous sales clerk telling an old woman that she'd heard they weren't going to get any accumulation at all. I'm sure deep down her perception was based at least partly on the fact that her paycheck was tied to the store's sales and she didn't want to have to close down early. Can't let Mother Nature get in the way of paying off all those holiday credit card bills.

The reality turned out a little on the disappointing side, at least if you're like me and enjoy the white stuff. We did get to enjoy the flurries from our window seat on the second floor of a cute little restaurant in the village, but they only lasted about 4 hours and none of it stuck. Oh well, I guess everyone can't be right all the time.