Peeling Out

The term used by kayakers when they leave a protected eddy and move back out into fast-moving current is "peeling out," and I'm feeling very much as though I've peeled out into a stream full of snowmelt just now.  Even with the short week (we didn't have class Monday, though I found this out only on Sunday morning), I've been a bit startled by the transition from spring break to school. 

Granted, the transition wasn't eased by the fact that I had the year's first baseball webcast on Tuesday afternoon, a faculty meeting on Wednesday night, and dorm duty yesterday.  Luckily, Friday is a light day for me, and best of all, I'm done with my coaching duties for the year, so I was able to mosey back home at my leisure, having already laid out the materials necessary for tomorrow's classes.  Ahhhhhh.

Unfortunately, I've been having some problems getting my vacation photos from the computer to the internet.  They came off the camera just fine, but I can't get them resized so that they'll fit on the web page properly; that's delayed my planned recap of the whole trip, but I do plan to get it written up here.  (I'm also preparing, at John Plymale's request, a short piece for the upcoming Pressure Boys reunion benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, so be patient, please.)  In the meantime, trust me: sandstone looks waaaaaaay cool.

I also forgot to list one life bird in my last post--hard to believe, I know, but it was one that I spotted only momentarily, a slate-blue, short-tailed bird that looked like a small blue crow as it flew across Arizona 160 in front of our truck and settled into a pinyon pine beside the road: a Pinyon Jay.  I had hoped to see one at greater length, and maybe even see more than one, but it's still a lifer.

The Four Corners trip was intended to do several things--get me away from work for a while, let me spend time with my Dad, keep me occupied while Ian & Dixon are still in school and can't travel, allow me to see part of the country I'd never visited--but of course one big goal was to get a life bird in each state.  I'm happy to report that the plan worked in Nevada (Great-tailed Grackle, Cactus Wren), Utah (Black-billed Magpie, "Gray-headed" Junco, Prairie Falcon, Mountain Bluebird, "Red-shafted" Flicker), Colorado (Townsend's Solitaire), and Arizona (Say's Phoebe, Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Mountain Chickadee), but I was skunked in New Mexico. 

Part of the problem with New Mexico was planning.  We spent very little time in NM, driving down from Mesa Verde National Park into the northwestern corner of the state, but not stopping for very long anywhere, partly because there's really nowhere to stop in that corner.  Other than the town of Shiprock and the Ship Rock itself, it's empty territory, belonging primarily to the Navajo Nation, and there are no state parks, wilderness areas, or other conservation areas; it's essentially open range--just high desert behind barbed-wire fences.  We probably drove about a hundred miles in New Mexico total, and the problem wasn't just a lack of life birds--it was a lack of just about everything.  I saw a few dozen ravens, mostly in the town of Shiprock itself, as well as some "Oregon" Juncos out in the scrub, a Horned Lark by the road, and a large, dark Red-tailed Hawk on a power pole, but that was it.  Clearly we should have allowed more time to drive further east, possibly into the Farmington area, or further south toward some parkland.  Still, it gives me an excuse to check the state out again, and that's not a bad thing.

The life list now stands at 344, including currently non-specific varieties such as both the abovementioned juncos, the R-S Flicker, and the Blue Goose.  But hey, I'm writing them down, because they might be split into separate species at any moment.  In fact, I benefited from two such splits on this trip.  I had seen a Plain Titmouse in the Palo Alto backyard of my friends Nan & Patrick when I visited California in 2003, but by the time I got the Grand Canyon, the bird I saw in Cali had been re-taxonomized as an Oak Titmouse and the two I saw cavorting atop a juniper near the GCNP visitor's center were Juniper Titmice.  Similarly, the scores and scores of magpies I saw in England remained part of the nominal species (Pica pica), but the ones I saw in southern Utah have been recast as members of a new American species, Pica hudsonia.  All I'm doing is making sure that when the Dark-eyed Junco complex gets split into its component parts, I won't have recalculate my total.

I think I've just about got my balance again, and my paddle's in my hands and ready, but if you see me go over in a few days, well, I've had to roll this boat before and I'll do it again.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on March 21, 2008 1:27 PM.

Hi, Honey, I'm Home! was the previous entry in this blog.

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