Monday, 20 August 2012

Saying Another Goodbye

Auntie Agnes as a little girl

She was my mother’s oldest sister, born in 1926 and departing this life last Friday, August 17th, 2012.  Auntie Agnes had a long and productive life and was well loved by our family and by her community.
            I remember what a berry-picker Auntie Agnes was—summer days she would often pick up Mom & me and we would head to a Saskatoon patch for an afternoon of picking.  As a child, I remember tiring of the task quickly and I was always amazed that Auntie’s enthusiasm never seemed to flag.  But there were always cool, shaded places to find, the smell of crushed horsemint underfoot and the satisfaction of avoiding the nettle patches.  The reward at the end of the day was the Saskatoon pie.
            Another fond memory was Auntie’s lipstick.  I always thought how sophisticated she looked, wearing that lip colour.  It’s probably a measure of how much I admired her that I never step out the door to go to work without putting on some makeup and finishing up with a bit of lipstick.  I’m still trying to be like her. 
            One of my favourite vacations was a long drive, taken with Auntie Agnes, Uncle Vern and my cousin Nancy.  We drove down through the United States, visiting Yellowstone, Colorado, New Mexico, and Missouri.  Uncle Vern swore that we were trying to see all the big rocks in the United States (and we did see some nice ones!).  Auntie enjoyed some of the small restaurants that we found along the way and trying menu items that were strange to a bunch of Canadians.  We still talked about the buffet where deep fried chicken livers and chicken gizzards featured.   We all enjoyed stopping to examine crops and talk to farmers that we ran into on our travels.  Whenever there was an interesting sight on the roadside, she was always game to stop and see what we could find out about it.  That willingness to take time to look at things and to be curious stayed with her for her whole life.
            The whole Andrews family seemed to have a passion for gardening, but Auntie Agnes was particularly devoted to it.  Even after she and Uncle Vern moved to town, she maintained a small garden plot and enjoyed her pots of flowers.  She and I also had a love of birds in common, and whenever I would phone her, she would regale me with stories of what birds were visiting her backyard feeders. 
            Auntie Agnes also loved her community and was very involved in the running of the Arboretum and the Trochu Museum.  When I researched one of my university history papers in the newspapers in the Museum, she practically glowed with pride.  And I know my sister Shannon has fond memories of working at the Museum for a couple of summers and getting to spend quality time with Auntie Agnes and family.
            At the beginning of March this year, I was staying at the house on a quick overnight visit.  Nancy and I were lodged in the basement and I had been reading for a little while that morning, listening to the comfortable sounds of Auntie & Uncle puttering around in the kitchen.  Suddenly an enormous thump brought both Nancy and I to attention and we heard a weak little voice asking for help.  We ran upstairs, dressing as we went, and found Auntie laying on her back in the hallway.  She had become dizzy, fallen and was in pain.  Thankfully, an ambulance arrived within about 15 minutes and she was taken to Three Hills hospital emergency, where it was eventually determined that she had cracked her pelvis.  I was so glad that I was there at the house to keep her company while we waited for the paramedics, cover her with a blanket and find her glasses for her.  It took a couple of weeks, but she was happy to return home and I was glad to see at the beginning of July, when we all went to the Trochu parade, that she was using her walker (for walking and not just to hang clothes on).
            It’s ironic that Auntie Agnes and Uncle Vern had just received word that there would be room for them very soon in the lodge in Trochu.  In the last few years, Auntie said she felt lonely and isolated some of the time, not being as mobile as she used to be.  I think she would have enjoyed being able to walk out her door and find an acquaintance to visit with.  On the other hand, she wasn’t quite sold on the whole idea of leaving her house and yard.  Perhaps this was her way of saying, “I don’t choose to move.” 
            What ever the case, we will all miss her very much.  She and Auntie Grace were the last remaining Andrews siblings.  Now Auntie Grace is the last of the Mohicans, an unenviable position to be in.  I find myself comforted a bit in knowing that her siblings Russell, George, Roxie and Lela, Grandma & Grandpa Andrews, Great-grandma Farley, cousins Eleta Mayes, Ralph and Don Carr, among others were in the crowd waiting to receive her.  She will never feel lonely or isolated again.    
Auntie Agnes and Uncle Vern on their 60th wedding anniversary

Monday, 13 August 2012

Another Kind of Anniversary

Auntie Agnes, Mom and Dad, Uncle Carl

August 13th is my parents’ wedding anniversary—they married in 1957.  Weddings weren’t as elaborate in those days.  The wedding party was small, including Mom’s sister Agnes as matron of honour and Dad’s younger brother Carl as best man.  Mom’s wedding dress was light blue and knee length.  I don’t think there were any professional pictures taken—at least I haven’t discovered any yet.
Mom (Lela Andrews) and Dad (Harry Pedersen) met on the Andrews family farm.  Uncle Russell could hardly wait to point out the two new hired men to his youngest sister.  They were Harry and his best friend Maurice.  “Which one will you have?” he asked her.  Responding to his teasing, Lela pointed at Harry and responded, “I’ll have that one.”  I bet no one thought at the time that there was anything more to it than brother-sister teasing!

                After high school graduation, Mom moved to Trochu where she worked in Balkwell’s pharmacy.  Options for women were few and far between in those years.  If you went on to secondary education you had two options, teacher or nurse.  Neither were to Lela’s taste, although both her sisters attended Normal School to become teachers.  If she’d had the chance, I think Mom would have chosen to try a career in journalism, as writing was her passion.  But her days as an independent career woman were cut short when her father died.

                That was a difficult year for the Andrews family.  Earlier in the year, Grandma’s mother  Dora Farley (née Gee) passed away, having lived with the family for many years.  Shortly afterwards Grandpa Andrews (George) also died after quite a long battle with illness.  For Grandma Matilda this must have been an earth-shattering year,  losing her mother and her husband in quick succession.  The call went out and my mother came home to be of emotional assistance.

                When my parents married, they bought the quarter of land just north of  the homestead where Grandma Matilda still lived with her son, my Uncle George.  I know that this was very significant for my father—he had never really put down deep roots anywhere as his family of origin moved a lot.  He once told me that he had never attended fewer than two schools in any given school year.  Once he owned a farm, it became next to impossible to convince him to leave it for any appreciable amount of time.  Why would he vacation when he was exactly where he wanted to be?  [Which makes it very ironic that the car accident that killed him happened when he was on one of these rare vacations].

                The Ghost Pine farm district, where my sisters and I grew up, consisted of a lot of family and many neighbours whose families had also been in the area for a long, long time.  Like many farm communities, driving directions were given which made no sense to outsiders.  Instructions like “turn north at the old Wright place” were difficult for even me, since there had been no Wrights living on said piece of land since well before my birth!  And when Mom and Dad bought a second quarter of land, it was always referred to as “the Dickson place.” It may have been ours legally, but in the community memory it would always be associated with the original homesteaders.   It was the Ghost Pine community that helped us so much after Mom and Dad’s deaths—Dad had decided that 1996 was his last crop year, but he didn’t live to harvest it.  It was our neighbours who came with the appropriate machinery and made sure that crop got threshed and stored.

                I also remember before we held our farm auction, having the auctioneer advise us to “line up all the machinery from biggest to smallest” for easier sale.  My sisters and I, all now city women, looked at each other and said, “Do you even know where to sit on some of this stuff?  Any idea how to start it?”  It was at that moment that we decided to phone our male farmer cousins and request some assistance (and received it in spades, I might add).  

                I will always have fond memories of all the time spent with family on our farm.  Mom’s family lived close and we spent most signficiant holidays with them as well as many ordinary day visits.  I can think of at least one Christmas where Mom and I planned lunch for about 75 people (all relatives).  Dad’s family was spread far and wide, from Canada to the United States and to exotic locations like Morocco, France and Pakistan.  Eventually, Dad’s parents retired to the Three Hills area to be close to the son with the stable location.  That made our house a magnetic centre for all of Dad’s family too.  When his siblings came to visit, they generally stayed with us.  I have many happy memories of playing with seldom-seen cousins, walking the pastures, picking flowers from the garden, petting the cows, riding the horses, and picking vegetables or berries to feed the crowd assembled at the dinner table each evening.

                In many ways, it was an idyllic way to grow up and I am grateful to have experienced it all.  Lately, I wish that I had paid more attention to the stories of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles.  How much family history is gone from our memories now?  How much resides in only my  own shakey memory?  Although I really have plenty of projects on the go right now, somehow this one has the greatest sense of urgency and I must make time to visit with all of my remaining relatives and get as many stories as possible captured and pinned into the collection like butterflies in the museum.

Cutting the Wedding Cake

Friday, 10 August 2012


It’s that time of year again—tomorrow is the sixteenth anniversary of my dad’s death.  It was all I could do to haul myself out of bed this morning and get my day started.  My parents were killed in a car accident those many years ago, but I must confess it doesn’t feel like sixteen years.  Some days, I feel like it was yesterday and on others, I feel like I was hatched out of an egg and never really did have parents.  Funny how feelings change relative to other things that are happening in life.
            As a result, my parents are frozen in time for me, Dad at age 65 and Mom at 60.  Some days, I am envious of people who still have their parents around.  At other times I watch my friends struggling to get proper care for aging parents and I feel guilty relief that I don’t have to worry about this problem.  There was a point in time (shortly after both funerals) where I really couldn’t see any good coming out of the situation, but I have come to realize that we have to find the good and celebrate it.
            The best thing that I got out of the whole awful experience was a new relationship with my sisters.  I am the oldest surviving child and five years older than the next sister—meaning that I had moved away from home before either of my sisters were in high school.  When you are young, five years is a big difference.  Now, in our forties and fifties, it feels like nothing!  After leaving home I lost touch with my sisters, getting their news relayed via Mom in the weekly telephone call.  The ‘motherized’ version.  Now, I enjoy regular telephone chats and visits with both sisters and I’ve come to know them as complete people.  I count them among my best friends and feel very lucky to have that privilege.
            I also realize how quickly life can change.  One day everything is fine and there are no storm clouds on the horizon.  The next day, the roof has been ripped off your house, the rain is pouring in, and there’s no end in sight.  It’s important to do the things that are important to you every darn day.  Don’t wait until you retire, until you lose weight, until you get married, or until anything.  Go, do those things.  Now.  I mean it.  Visit someone you’ve been missing.  Write a letter, make a phone call, send an email.  Plan that trip you’ve always dreamed of.  Start that project that’s been calling to you.  Live your life as if it will end soon—it might.
            I value life much more now and going through this massive grief experience has made me braver.  If I can survive that, what are these other puny problems by comparison?  I have realized how much strength I inherited from both sides of my family.  Whatever life may bring my way, I will find a way to handle it. 
            I miss my parents every day.  I love hearing stories from relatives and friends about things that they did, even little things.  It always gives me new perspectives on who they were as people, something that, as a child, one doesn’t often appreciate.  There are so many things I wish I could ask them or tell them.  Occasionally, the thought still passes through my mind, “When I phone Mom…”  Where do those thoughts come from after all this time?  
            In the end, I grieve greatly because I loved greatly.  And love is really what it’s all about.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Missing Marge

For seventeen years, she’s been a reliable part of my life.  About three weeks ago, a group of us met for dinner at the Olive Garden to catch up on each other’s news.  That was when Marge let us know that she was once again battling cancer.
            I don’t know how many times this lovely woman has fought that dread disease.  What has always amazed me was that she did it with humour, optimism and complete bravery.  The rest of us might fret and worry—Marge just forged ahead with treatment and instead of us encouraging her, she encouraged all of those around her.
            I met Marge in 1995 when I became a docent at the Calgary Zoo.  She always had time for newbies and was more than willing to share her wisdom along with a smile and a joke.  She always called the Zoo her healing place, where she came to grieve for the son that she had lost.  I came to appreciate her experience, when in 1996 my parents were killed in a car accident while on vacation in B.C.  Everyone in my zoo family supported me through that ordeal, but Marge was exceptional.  Many days she would take my arm and say, “Let’s walk.”  We would roam the zoo, talking or not talking, as the day required.  Later she told me that I was a bit like the walking dead myself—and those first few years after Mom and Dad’s deaths are a blur for me, with very few memories attached.  What would I have done without the zoo, my friends there and without the knowledgeable support of Marge?
            That was one of the things that made our trip to Kenya in 2000 so special.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for Marge and we were able to enjoy the safari together, admiring elephants or visiting with the people whom we encountered.  Marge was definitely a people-person.  As much as she loved animals, especially gorillas, it was people that engaged her.  She loved taking her new knowledge of Africa to school classrooms here in Canada.  And who else could love doing overdue account collection for the zoo?  Marge phoned people, asked them why they hadn’t paid and received some remarkable answers.  Some just had never been asked, some had life troubles, and some were just seeing what they could get away with.  She dealt with them as she did with all of us—with understanding, compassion and a good prod when we needed it. 
            I think Marge knew virtually everyone at the Zoo.  Even if she didn’t know them personally, they knew her.  She proudly accepted the title of Gorilla Grandma and was so pleased to be at the birth of one of the gorilla youngsters.  I remember one public event where Marge was sharing her love of the troop, a young black-back male gorilla, Untundu, behind her.  Untundu did what he loved best—he drop-kicked the glass separating him from his audience!  The glass shattered, but didn’t fall out, a small miracle.  Marge later said she knew she said something about gorillas being gentle beasts, that there was no need to be afraid and ushering people quickly outside, before giving in to complete panic!  She stayed professional until she had fulfilled her duty!
            I know there are those who have gone on before who have met Marge on the other side:  her son Dwight, other relatives and friends were no doubt holding out helping hands as she crossed over.  But I’d also like to believe that there were several dogs and Tabitha and Julia, among other gorillas also waiting in the crowd.   Safe travels, Marge, until we meet again.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Many Colored Land

This novel is the first in The Saga of Pliocene Exile.  Since I’m a confirmed fan of palaeontology, the word “Pliocene” attracted my attention early on in my reading project.  I was interested enough to research a bit and find out that the author, Julian May, was in fact a woman (Judy May).  Add more points to the plus side for a female author of speculative fiction.
            And my hopes came true:  I found the book hard to put down—I lost a lot of sleep during the week that I read it [thankfully spent on vacation, not trying to concentrate at work].  Probably the slowest part is the initial introduction, where we learn the set up for the story:  a world in which mankind is one of several species involved in the Galactic Milieu, which has some pretty specific guidelines for how life will be lived ; an elderly physicist who has established a time-travel portal to Earth’s Pliocene, six million years in the past ; his widow, who decides to finance her future by transporting discontented people back to the Pliocene for a fee ; and meeting the “Green Group” of travelers that the novel follows through the way-back machine.
            Who hasn’t dreamed of really getting away from it all?  For me, it means a week at Sylvan Lake, away from my phone, a computer connection, my job & a regular schedule.  For some people, it means a beach holiday.  Others retreat to the wilderness to camp.  Think of the Pliocene as the ultimate camping adventure:  no civilization, large & dangerous animals and no way home.  Yes, it’s a one-way trip.  When the distinguished professor attempts to bring creatures forward in time, they instantaneously age 6 million years and crumble to dust before his eyes [as he demonstrats with a Hyracotherium caught with carrot bait—so awesome].  So time-portal travelers are heading into the unknown to rough it among mastodons and sabre-tooth cats.  At least in theory.
            In practice, the time travelers find that another space-faring species (The Tanu) has arrived before them and is finding the constant flow of escape-seeking humans to be a bonanza of workers—need a body guard, a farm worker or a sex-slave?  Wait until next week’s shipment and we’ll see who arrives!  They also have the advantage of psi-powers, amplified by necklace-like torcs and they slap a similar device on anyone who they wish to control. 
            Once again, who hasn’t had a plan go horribly wrong?  The vacation that is compromised by unpleasant tour participants, getting your dream job and then realizing that you now have the boss from hell, the project that you thought would be so fun that has turned into the biggest circus ever?  It’s a situation that we can all relate to—getting more than we bargained for and/or ending up in over our heads.  Only we usually get to go home at some point and leave the nightmare behind.
There’s a lot that I can relate to in this novel—including some female main characters who have realistic thoughts, feelings, goals….you name it.  I hadn’t thought that gender of the author mattered, until I started reading speculative fiction by female authors!  Night and day!  It is so refreshing to be able to truly identify with the characters and have them reflect your own concerns and emotions realistically.  It made me realize how often male-authored science fiction just feels uncomfortable to me—the women don’t feel and think like I do.  I would be interested to know if men feel as off-kilter when reading female authors as I do when reading male authors!
It was also startling [in a good way] to have a lesbian (Felice) appear as a main character [trying to out-testosterone the men and being pretty good at it!].  I think this is the first time during my reading project that I’ve encountered a homosexual character—and she is portrayed as a strong and determined woman.  Considering the amount of prejudice which still exists for the homosexual community, I found this rendering to be extraordinary for a novel published in 1981. 
            Add to that the fossil creatures that run through the narrative and this was just an excellent book for my tastes!  I can hardly wait to read the other three novels in the series and to get my hands on more speculative fiction written by women.  We’ve come a long way, baby!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Remembering Ray Bradbury

We lost a great writer this week when Ray Bradbury passed away at age 91.  I haven’t been acquainted with his writing for long, having just discovered him in 2011, but I was blown away by the prophetic views of society that I found in his writings.
                My favourite book by far (from the works that I have read) is Fahrenheit 451.  Its hard for me to fathom how, in 1953, Ray saw so clearly where our civilization was headed.  We haven’t outlawed books just yet, but there are certainly lots of people who are trying to censor what we read and to decree what libraries ought to own and lend.  It amazes me that we are still fighting this battle—that the concept of the free market place of ideas hasn’t been won yet.  So many of the proponents of censorship are also supporters of free enterprise—they believe in the principle for business, but not for the rest of life!  And certainly not in the realm of ideas!  The current stir over the novel Fifty Shades of Gray is just one example.  Ironically, this is what the free marketplace of ideas is all about—debating the ideas as a society and eventually choosing the ones with the most merit.  As we have done with issues like slavery, sexism and cruelty.  While the censors have the right to present their arguments, they have no right to squash opposing opinions.  That’s another tenet of Western society— individuals get to choose what’s right for them.  It will always be the right way to do things, but I guess it will always bring out the bigots who want to control others, not just themselves.  It’s all about karma—thankfully, history has not been kind to those who espouse censorship [or slavery, sexism or cruelty for that matter].
                There are certainly no shortage of people trying to impose their values and morality on the rest of society.  Ray understood this human tendency well.  In the story The Pedestrian, Leonard Mead is arrested for taking a walk and for not owning a television.  He is eventually committed to a mental hospital for these “aberrations.”  We are a very tribal species, requiring proof from our members that they adhere to our values.  What does it say about our society that I can envision this situation taking place in the not-too-distant future?  So few people walk for pleasure any more, we don’t know our neighbours (often on purpose), we are glued to our electronic devices instead of interacting with people around us and many conversations that we do participate in revolve around television programs or internet sensations, rather than books, real ideas or experiences. 
                Ray predicted the isolation of the individual in our technological society.  Households in Fahrenheit 451 possessed enormous televisions and people aspired to own four so as to cover all four walls of their TV rooms and be surrounded by the programming.  His fictional people watch incomprehensible shows about a fictional family, and they can pay an extra fee to have their names inserted in some places in the dialog.  Rather than spending time with their real families, they basically live passively through a TV family.   As I have said before, for me Ray Bradbury was a prophet, predicting ‘reality’ TV extremely accurately.   The tribal imperative in this society was enforced through the burning of all books and the persecution of activities such as creating art & music, as well as getting outside to appreciate nature.  At least we can read e-books on our myriads of electronic devices, but I suspect most users spend their time in pointless activities instead.  I like Facebook as much as the next person, but really isn’t it much more fun to see your friends in person?  To hike in the mountains?  To listen to great music while cooking dinner?
                I hope we never see a future in which books, art & classical music are illegal.  I hope we never have to memorize books in order to keep them available.  I hope that we can use our electronic devices to foster community and to get to know our friends and relatives better.  I hope we rarely choose television over our families.  But at least Ray Bradbury caused us to think about these possibilities and to decide if that was what we wanted.  Last, but not least, thank you Ray for all the kind things that you said about libraries and the people who work in them.  For this and so much more, we appreciate you!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Evolution of a Birder

It all began as a high school science project in which our assignment was to research and write a report on an animal of our choice.  I must have seen an article in a wildlife magazine on Whooping Cranes and I immediately know what my subject would be.  I remember spending many happy hours research my chosen birds.  I had never seen a Whooping Crane--not unusual really, as they are highly endangered and don't migrate through the section of Alberta where I grew up.  However, I had seen Sandhill Cranes flying over our farm, heard them making their soft little crane flight calls.  They were enchanting and I was hooked.  [Looking back, I realize that I had also discovered a love of research, not a bad quality for a birder to have].

This all took place in the days before I became a dedicated birder, back before I even knew what a field guide was or that some people identified birds for fun.  I distinctly remember, in my early twenties, discovering a field guide to North American birds in the university library [another foreshadowing of things to come] and having an epiphany:  the birds that I see everywhere can be identified, named & noted!  But I still didn't quite know what to do with than information.

Eventually, I discovered a naturalist society here in Calgary and was initiated into the cognoscenti.  I felt like I had discovered a gold mine of information and experience.  Bird walks every week helped me find and identify common birds in the area.  Classes at the local bird sanctuary added to my pleasure.  I was building my basic knowledge, honing my skills and starting to understand this mysterious practice called birding.  [I also remember telling my father that I was taking up bird watching and him replying, "But you can't see large highway signs!"  And it is true that I have vision problems, but birds interest me a great deal more than highway signs, so it all works out].

In time, the city wasn't large enough.  Field trips were planned within a day's drive of Calgary and I explored new habitats with bird field trips of various kinds.  My horizons expanded as I went to areas of Northern and Southern Alberta where I had never ventured before. Neighbouring provinces called my name--I went to Saskatchewan for the fall migration and saw hundreds of Sandhill cranes, geese and swans, amongst other goodies.  British Columbia was next, in the gorgeous Osoyoos area, where Lewis' Woodpecker and Bullock's Oriole were added to my burgeoning list.

All the birding magazines that I picked up had exotic pictures in them of fabulous birds, living in far-flung places, but I had never imagined leaving Canada to see birds.  In 1999, my dear friend Jean approached with a proposition:  she was looking for people to go on a birding tour to Britain--would I like to go?  Would I? YES!  I began making the plans--applying for my first passport, arranging flights, paying a bill issued in foreign currency--it was all new and exciting!  Little did I know that it would be a fateful trip!  Not only did I meet four of my closest friends, with whom I still go birding regularly, but I began a determined quest to go to all seven continents before I turned 50. [I accomplished this feat by age 48].

That first foreign trip was magical--we sang our way around Britain, saw a "dancing" Black Grouse on Tullock Moore in Scotland, savoured summer pudding at a fabulous B&B in Wales, were awed by Red Kites in flight, spied a Capercaillie early on morning, problem-solved when one of our hotels suddenly cancelled on us, and consumed numerous servings of sticky-toffee pudding!  I was smitten.

The experience of birding travel hasn't lost its appeal--trying new foods, seeing new geography, attempting new skills. And of course there are the birds!  Toucans, penguins, parrots, tanagers, warblers, shorebirds, even gulls.  Some colourful, some dull.  As big as Ostriches in Kenya, as small as the Bee Hummingbird in Cuba.  Some trips have been easier than others, several have posed big challenges to me, but I am always pleased when I return home having stretched myself in some way.

The next frontier is to move from a life list on paper to one in software.  Life lists are the tally of all the bird species seen by an individual--made complicated by the continual change in taxonomy of the birds of the world [approximately 10,000 species, more or less].  The software is ordered--the quest to get the data entered will begin in June.  This will be a big challenge for me, as the record keeping is my least favourite part of the whole hobby.  I love being able to identify a birds without assistance, to hear a song and know which bird is singing, to know where to go to find a particular bird.  The numbers games [as in how many species I have seen] is of much less interest to me--but if I'm going to see them, I might as well keep track of them!  And remember events like my first Snowy Sheathbill, an Antarctic scavenger bird, which landed on my sleeping bag at two in the morning during a one-night camp-out on the Ice--what a great way to meet a brand new bird species [even if it was hoping that I was dead and scavengeable]. 

I still marvel at the beauty and toughness of birds.  The more I learn about the, the more I realize I don't know.  For a life-long student such as myself, this is why birding is a perfect hobby--there is always something new to learn.  So I guess I'll put up with the record keeping!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Birding in Texas

I have returned mosquito bitten and a bit tired from southeast Texas where I spent a week on a birding adventure.  This is only my second visit to the Lone Star state and I have to say that the people are very friendly there (but I am still very glad to live where I do).  I did eventually get used to being addressed as “y’all” and may have even used it a few times myself.

            My friends and I had signed up with high hopes of seeing a lot of warblers, including the Eastern species that never occur in Alberta.  We were a week too late—we did see about 20 species, including some lifers, but not in the vast numbers that we had anticipated.  It seems that migration is a bit weird everywhere this year.  The best new warblers for me were the Kentucky Warbler (a dapper yellow & black bird) and the Swainson’s Warbler (a rather dull coloured skulker that we got excellent views of twice).  Also added Prairie and Pine Warblers to my list.  (The Prairie is pictured below).

            We notched the extremely-endangered Red Cockaded Woodpecker on our very first birding day in Jones State Forest, not too far from Houston.  I couldn’t get my camera trained on those birds, but a Red Headed Woodpecker was a bit more cooperative.

            We were lucky with the Nighthawk family too.  On our morning at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, there were Common Nighthawks everywhere.

We also were alerted to a Chuck Will’s Widow on a day roost in one of the sanctuaries in High Island.

  Being a rabbit lover, I was pleased to get to know the charming Swamp Rabbit.

I was also thrilled to see my first Seaside Sparrow singing his little heart out and sounding like a cross between a Red Winged Blackbird and a Savanna Sparrow.
And it is always wonderful to see a Yellow Breasted Chat, especially one as cooperative as this one.
Although we didn’t see buckets of warblers, it was still a very good trip.  I have eaten more fried food in one week than I normally do in six months and walked around until my feet felt melded into my socks!  One of the big pleasures each day was returning to the motel to wash off layers of sunscreen and mosquito repellent.  I’m looking forward to seeing some of these birds again, as they make their way into Alberta in May.