Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's Happening!

the Great Backyard Bird Count begins. Actually it has already begun. I'm in my 2nd day of counting and i just spotted a new bird this morning!

all because I got up earlier than ever *pats on back*

the Brown headed Cowbird via Whidbey Audubon Society

I was a little upset to find out that these birds are what they call "brood parasites" -- their young are raised by "foster parents" because the females lay their eggs in nests of other species. However, studies have shown that the long term and large scale impacts of brood parasitism are relatively minor. So no love lost!

I have spotted a total of 14 species in my backyard to date. And guess what? I think i can now tell the house finches and the purple finches, both the males and the females, apart!!!


Oh and when the squirrels come out, I set Daisy on them, so they leave the feeders to the birdies. A little unfair i know, but the squirrels have fattened themselves quite a bit for so long now. Leave this weekend to the birds!!! *shakes fists*

I found another website where you can submit your observation lists any day of the year, so i can continue my birdwatching even after the weekend. Check out eBird.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Adventures of the ornithologist wanna-be

I'm having a field day.

It's my day off and I'm sitting outside on the steps of my back porch watching birds. I decided that sitting indoors by the kitchen window is infinitely more comfortable, but frankly will not do for proper birdwatching. Not to mention missing out on the birdsongs and sounds that sitting outdoors would provide. So I decked myself out in warm winter gear and prepared myself for a long uncomfortable sitting. Also, learning from past experiences - gloves are a necessity, along with a camera and a pair of binoculars.

I had previously identified a few of the birds flying around in the yard, and to date I am able to easily spot the chickadees, the tufted titmice, the finches, cardinals, plus the occasional woodpecker and visiting blue jay. That said, to my amateurish disappointment, I am unable to figure out if the chickadees i see are black-capped chickadees or carolina chickadees. I would think that since I'm in NC, it would probably be a Carolina chickadee, but I do not want to make any assumptions. A good birdwatcher does not assume. :p

And then there are the finches. Now, are they cassin's finches or house finches? Or purple finches??? Even when armed with the online Cornell Lab guide, a chunky Smithsonian Field Guidebook from the library and after a million googled images i am left with so much doubt. I'm going to have to read up more about these darn birds!

Although today has been a very productive and exciting day. Not only did i see the usual suspects, but i spotted 3 birds that I am still unable to identify. One chirps like the red-bellied woodpecker and scales down trees, pecking at them, and the other looks most definitely like a downy woodpecker, or a hairy woodpecker. ARGH! See what i mean?

And there is a blue bird with an orange breast and white belly. J said it looked like a robin, but according to the Smithsonian, i think it's most likely the Eastern Bluebird. The most exciting bit is that it's checking out the birdbox nailed to the post on our porch. Are we gonna have bluebird babies soon?????

Pretty bluebird via Music of Nature

Birdwatching can be taxing. Especially when you want to get close to the birdies. You sit in one position, not moving, and wait in silence to gain their trust. The chickadees are the first to try their luck. They dart in and out, making quick moves at the bird feeder, never staying very long in a single spot, which I guess makes them so daring. Then come the titmice, who are equally quick but stay a little longer on the feeders as if proof of their bravado.

After the chickadees and the titmice have lingered around long enough, you get the finches. And they come in a swarm. At one point I counted 12 goldfinches pecking diligently on the ground. And then a couple of female house/purple (whichever type they are) flit in, before their male counterpart joins them.

You know you've made progress when you finally see the cardinals. They wait patiently on the branches watching the smaller birds before swooping in when they figure the coast is clear. However, like a brute, it swoops down to the feeder, only to squawk at the smaller birds to make way for its arrival. The male cardinals, bright red ones, look like rare red blooms on the bare trees.

And then, right about this time, you start to feel your sitbones, i mean really FEEL them. Then you practice complete muscle isolation and control to shift into a new position in slow motion, in order not to make any abrupt movements that will scare the birds away. Otherwise, you start the whole process from square one.

So that basically summed up my not-so early morning bird watching experience. I have tomorrow and Monday to try again and hopefully I wake up early enough to catch some different new birds.

White-throated sparrow via Wallpaper Academy

post script:

As i was finishing up this post at 4 in the afternoon, I spotted a new bird! I had originally thought it was a female house/purple finch, but because i had the binoculars, i'd seen splotches of yellow on its face. After a careful search, I'm proud to say I may have spotted a white-throated sparrow! Wheeeeeeee!!!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Marimekko + Converse = ♥


I have always adored Marimekko prints. Now that they are splashed all over Converse shoes, what is there not to love??

So cute!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Animals Galore!

I'm super excited about the following weekend (Feb 18-Feb 21) because the annual Great Backyard Bird Count will take place then. This is a four day event that calls on all bird watchers to come together to count birds!!! Of course, it will not be a pointless activity, but we will have to report our results online which will be tallied to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent.

Participants can count birds ANYWHERE for as little or as long as they wish during the four day period, but unfortunately this only takes place in the United States and Canada. Otherwise you can be sure I'll be calling all you friends to join me in this activity!!!!

I've already started practicing. I told Dad about it the night before and he immediately refilled the bird feeders. So this morning, while i was chewing on my sandwich, I was also eagerly looking out the window checking out the birds to see what kinds we have out there. Sad to say, because I'm such an amateur, I could only identify the most obvious ones like the cardinal and the blue jay. I scanned the list of birds on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to identify the other mystery birds in the yard to no avail. Partly because I need a pair of binoculars to look up close, the birds fly around too energetically for my liking(!) and I have to be less squirmy. Everytime i got out of my chair to move closer to the window, the birds, sensing movement, fly away. I wonder how i am going to be able to sit outside during that weekend, in the cold, without the slightest movement. But I will persevere!!! The best part about it is I get 3 days out of the 4 off work! I don't have to work that Friday, Saturday and Monday!!!!! And from now till then, I am going to familiarize myself with the bird species and get me a pair of binoculars (i think Dad has one somewhere, for his hunting needs).

So far these are the brightly coloured, easy-to-spot little friends out in the backyard:

The pretty Blue Jay

The Cardinal

The Red Bellied Woodpecker

All images via The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

In other news, I'm also reading this super interesting animal book called The Peaceable Kingdom - A Year in the Life of America's Oldest Zoo by John Sedgwick. The author spent a year at the Philadelphia Zoo interacting with the staff and animals and this book recounts his experiences through the seasons. It's funny and informative, and gives a heartwarming account of the individual animals that live (and die) at the zoo. My favourite section is about the pachyderms -- the elephants (of course) and the rhinos. It makes me want to go work in a zoo now!!!

If you happen to come across the book, read it!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Happy Year of the Rabbit!

Just saw this on Gilt Groupe and am loving it! It would make the perfect outfit for Chinese New Year this year!

bunny rabbit dress

The prints on the dress are little bunny rabbits!!!

bunny rabbit close up

So cute so cute so cute!!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A tart in the making

Because I can never be half arsed to make myself a meal, much less dessert, so it really spoke volumes when I decided to make my own pineapple tarts from scratch.

I called my parents over the weekend and they were in the midst of baking pineapple tarts (as usual) for the coming Chinese New Year. When I hung up, i felt a sudden wave of homesickness wash over me. It's strange because I have been away from home 6 years now, and i've never really felt the impact of it (save my first year). J says it's largely due to not even having close friends here with me. In the past, at least my boss would invite us to her place for a reunion dinner and some 'lou hei' affair.

I began to think about all the Chinese New Year goodies I'm missing... pineapple tarts, kueh bangkit, bak kwa... and was super listless by bedtime. The J-man saw how sad I looked and (bless his heart) searched for bak kwa online.

He said, "how can i make it any better for you, dear?"

We found on online store Bak Kwa King based in Oakland, CA and placed an order for 2 pounds of bak kwa. Not a lot, but just enough to cheer me up a little. And then i decided that i was going to bake myself some pineapple tarts. It really can't be that difficult, as long as i had a recipe!

When i was young, i remember helping my mother out in the kitchen, stirring the bubbling pot of pineapple pulp for eternity, while i watched her churn out batch after batch of tarts single-handedly.

I found a recipe off Wall Street Journal (??) and decided to use it only because the writer is from Singapore, and surely, that recipe will be closest to home. I did ask my mom for her recipe too, but knowing how busy my family will be, preparing for CNY, i decided to go ahead and try it out on my own first.


The recipe calls for ingredients that would yield 100 tarts, and for the life of me, I don't know why i didn't half the recipe to try it on a smaller scale. I was ambitious, and thought that since I was already making them, I might as well make more to satisfy my cravings.


My first challenge came in the form of chopping up FOUR huge pineapples. My dad used to slice and dice all our fruits, what do I know of chopping up pineapples??? Fortunately, the pineapples came with a tag that gave instructions on how to chop it, even though it did take me a good half an hour to get all four pineapples diced up. I thought to myself, if i DID give up here, at least i'd learnt how to cut up pineapples today.

And then the instructions said to run the chunks through a juicer, to obtain the juice and pulp separately. We have no juicer! Great! i had thought our food processor will do the trick, but it mushed the pineapple to a complete puree that it was not really possible to separate anything from anything. Resigned, I took out a strainer and did it by hand. What was left of the pulp i placed in a pot to prepare for the 3 gruelling hours of slow boiling and stirring.

While that was going on, I decided to be smart and start on the pastry (or i'll never be done by the end of the day). That was easy enough. Years and years of making playdough in school gave me the experience i needed. Even when the recipe said only a certain amount of flour was needed, i knew i had to add more because the dough was too sticky (*double pats on the back*) Making the dough was the easiest and most pleasant part of the process. The dough smelt like cookie dough and was a refreshing change from all that pineapple wafting into my nose.

And then i realised we do not have cookie cutters in the house. J and I brainstormed the different ways we could stuff the pineapple into the pastry and agreed on one method. i used the lid from my water bottle to cut out circles and folded in the edges all round to make a little depression in the middle. J used a knife to draw in stripey patterns all around the edge, but i WASN'T about to do that to 99 more tarts. No sireee! Well, the rolling, and the cutting, and the folding, took another three taxing hours. All this done while stirring the pineapple constantly, to make sure it doesn't burn.

Eventually the pineapple got done cooking (with all the juice evaporated) i rolled them into tiny little balls with my hands. I placed each one in the middle of my coarse looking excuse for a pineapple tart and set them in the oven to bake.

I started at about 2pm in the afternoon, took a break in the middle to have dinner. And i only finished baking, cleaning and washing up at around 1030pm. At the end of it, I was tired, grouchy and had a lousy output of only 70+ tarts. BUT it was a rewarding experience, and I will savour my tarts, and any future tarts I make/eat with relish, knowing how much work goes into each and every one of it.

Happy Chinese New Year y'all! Have a wonderful year of the rabbit!

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