Monday, January 26, 2009

The Bodhicaryavatara

I am reading The Bodhicaryavatara, also known as A Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life.


Monday, January 19, 2009

House Finch

There's a pair of House Finches that come to my feeder.

Closer view using the 2x digital zoom with the binoculars. It helps to clean the window, focus the bins, and such. ;-P

Both finches in one frame of a test video.
Two house finches.

Practice, practice, practice.


Unknown Thrush

Unknown thrush seen Sunday, January 18, 2008, at the Ft. Worth Botanical Garden.

Unknown thrush on branch in sunlight.(possibly a Veery)

Unknown thrush in undergrowth.

Unknown thrush (frame from first video)
Guess I will have to go back and see what species this individual is.

Unknown thrush (frame from second video)
Not much better.

Better luck next time.



As Obama takes office, remember this wisdom from the Buddha:

Buddha said: "I consider the positions of kings and rulers as that of dust motes. I observe treasures of gold and gems as so many bricks and pebbles. I look upon the finest silken robes as tattered rags. I see myriad worlds of the universe as small seeds of fruit, and the greatest lake in India as a drop of oil on my foot. I perceive the teachings of the world to be the illusion of magicians. I discern the highest conception of emancipation as a golden brocade in a dream, and view the holy path of the illuminated ones as flowers appearing in one's eyes. I see meditation as a pillar of a mountain, Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime. I look upon the judgment of right and wrong as the serpentine dance of a dragon, and the rise and fall of beliefs as but traces left by the four seasons."

Are the wise rescuing fools (Wall Street and auto companies), or are fools rescuing fools? Unfortunately, the answer may not be apparent until some time in the future. If the best minds in Washington can't do better than they have been doing, we are likely in big trouble on one level of thought. If we look at it from the Buddha's perspective, it's almost like watching a dream or ants fighting.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Field Test

Went to the Ft. Worth Botanical Gardens to field test the binoculars-Flip MinoHD camcorder combo. Here's some results.

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Mockingbird (Flip MinoHD only)

White-breasted Nuthatch

American Robin

Eastern Phoebe

Uploading the MPEG-4 files is a bit time consuming. I had trouble with the Robin video and had to start over. Google converts the MP4 files to flash which degrades the resolution. I also lose detail around the edges due to the binoculars. Compare the Mockingbird video against the others. To illustrate the degradation due to the conversion to flash, I'm going to show you two frames from the MP4 videos.

Downy Woodpecker
See the red crest. It's a male.

Eastern Phoebe
See the hint of yellow in its breast. I went with the first impression, though it could be a an Eastern Wood Peewee. I thought I saw wing bars when it was in flight, but the juvenile Eastern Phoebe can have light wing bars as well.

Overall though, the binoculars allow me to grab video from a distance and capture details I wouldn't normally be able to capture with the camcorder by itself.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Binoculars, a Flip MinoHD Camcorder, and Birds

A Flip MinoHD camcorder affixed to the binocular's left eyepiece using rubber bands.

Edited video recording of Dark-eyed Junco on my porch railing through the binoculars.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Birthday Suit

The Source gave us clothing made of the purest white fiber Nature can make, DNA. Our clothing is self repairing, grows or shrinks to fit our environment, and wears out gradually. We still are learning how to take care of our clothes and the clothing experts (M.D.s) are not very knowledgeable at times. There are no name brands and the clothes only come in three main colors with slight variations. Most of us mistake our birthday clothes for ourselves, especially the CPU part of the suit. Sure, the suit lets one know when there's something wrong, but we forget and take our birthday suit for granted whenever it worked perfectly. So, when someone tells you that they are going to Heaven soon and getting cloth of the purest white, kindly tell them that they are already there and that's what they are already wearing. Death is like going home after school or play, for rest and refreshment in Heaven Unmanifest. We return from that Heaven to this manifested Heaven with a new uniform or suit, but the Essence or Consciousness is the same.


Already Missing Them

The world lost Patrick McGoohan yesterday. Here's a nice obituary from the BBC. Today, we are collectively lesser for the loss of John Mortimer. They both did exceedingly well in the Arts and will be remembered fondly. Heaven has been getting some amazing talent lately.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

December 17th: Northern Entrance of Big Bend

In constrast to the previous day, we drove to the North Entrance of the park. My Mom was feeling ill, so she decided to stay back. It was just Annie, Uncle John, and me. My Uncle rented a small cottage, Cottage 101, and we left Mom there to recuperate since we couldn't book the rooms another night. On the way up north, we stopped to view a fossil exhibit. Evidently, the geology goes back to before the dinosaurs which isn't too surprising since the area used to be an ancient shallow sea before the dinosaurs. But in this particular area one can find dinosaur bones in one strata and ancient mammals from a swamp in the next strata that might be exposed next to the earlier strata due to erosion. We saw a Harris's Hawk shortly after leaving the fossil display. At the North entrance to the park, we saw a Rock Wren. There were numerous other small birds singing in the area, but they were avoiding humans. Prior to the North Entrance to the park, we also saw Common Ground Dove, but they were a reddish hue, not as gray as the one in the photo.


December 16th: Chisos Mountains and Rio Grande Village

The morning of December 16th, my uncle captured some video of a Mexican Jay and a Cactus Wren outside of our room in the Chisos Mountains.

Mexican Jay

Cactus Wren

We also saw a Black-crested Titmouse hanging around the lodgings. Before breakfast, my uncle and I checked out a trail. We saw some small wrens, a Greater Roadrunner, a White-tailed doe and her fawn. After breakfast, we headed Southeast and drove to the Rio Grande Village. It is a popular camping and boating spot along the Rio Grande River. This is video of one of the campgrounds and a view towards Boquillas Canyon. We saw flycatchers and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker at the campground.

Rio Grande Village Campground

Here's a still shot from my camera.
Rio Grande Village Campground

Here's some shots of the Rio Grande.
Looking South towards Mexico from Rio Grande Village

Looking East on American side from same location.

At the river, we saw a Black Phoebe catching flys over the river from the near bank.
We then went to Boquillas Canyon.
Rio Grande from Boquillas Canyon

Quite a day!


December 15th: Transit to Big Bend National Park

Monday, December 15, was a pretty, clear day, with a cold northerly wind. I drove my uncle, his wife, and my Mother to Big Bend National Park. We took the scenic route, Interstate 20 to SH-17 to SH-118 South which leads one to Big Bend National Park. We stayed at the Chisos Mountains Lodge. The Chisos Mountains encircle an oasis of life surrounding a fairly harsh desert environment. Upon arriving and settling in, we had about two hours of daylight left. My uncle spotted a hawk, some Acorn Woodpeckers, and an Elf Owl. We likely saw a Western Scrub Jay which is darker than a Mexican Jay.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

December 13th: Balmorhea, TX.

Balmorhea State Park in Balmorhea, TX., was a disappointment for any birder. We saw one coot in the small restored section of the park among some reeds and a tiny little bird we couldn't identify at the time. At the lake, we saw a Great Blue Heron and a Belted Kingfisher. Coming back through Balmorhea on SH 17 from Fort Davis on the 22nd, my uncle spotted a Ringed Kingfisher by the road.

The Buffalo Trails Boy Scout Ranch Road (FM 1832 according to Google) was more promising. There's a juvenile Golden Eagle that staked out a territory at SH17 and FM 1832. We also saw various small birds, a bevy of Scaled Quail, two Prairie Falcons, Western Meadowlarks, and mule deer.

On FM1832, one can see and hear birds. We stopped and Uncle John recorded the birds singing.

Birds Singing Along FM 1832.


December 12th: Monahans, TX.

Surprisingly, the Sandhills State Park in Monahans, TX., had a lot more bird life. They had a feeder at the Visitor's Center. We saw more Pyrrhuloxia, a Curve-Billed Thrasher, a Cassin's Finch which wasn't supposed to be there, Brewer's Blackbird, and to my relative's delight, a Greater Roadrunner. Of the state parks in West Texas, Monahans was the best place to find birds in December.

On the way back, we stopped by the Odessa Meteor Crater.

Odessa Meteor Crater

Watch for snakes. They make no mention of watching out for bullets.

There's a well behind the Visitor's Center. It has a leaky pipe and essentially, it's now a manmade spring for the wildlife. We saw various sparrows and Western Meadowlarks around the well head. 23 sparrow species out of 30 live in Texas if the bird books are correct.


December 11th: Big Spring, TX.

My mother suggested we visit Big Springs State Park in Big Springs, TX. It was okay. We saw Pyrrhuloxia which is the name of the southern species of Cardinal. I know my uncle got a few more birds on his list. The original big springs which gave the town its name were a disappointment. There wasn't one bird around the springs. According to my uncle, that meant that the water was too polluted for any bird to use. Even coots can live in poor quality water and there were none. Outside of the park, at the border of what used to be Webb Air Force Base, we saw a Prairie Dog town. It had a resident Burrowing Owl. We also saw Western Meadowlarks all around the burrows.


December 9th: leaving Corpus Christi

We stopped by the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens that morning. We saw numerous waterfowl, a Gray Flycatcher, a Red-Winged Blackbird, two Crested Caracaras in flight, Dunlin, and Curlew Sandpiper. I couldn't see the sandpiper, but then my vision sucks.

We then drove all the way to Odessa. The trip matched my mood. On Interstate 10, it got cold and rainy midway between Kerrville, TX. and Iraan, TX., where I was born. We saw many Turkey Vultures along the Edward's Plateau between San Antonio and Kerrville. The rain ended before Fort Stockton and the cold air dried the roads.


December 8th: Aransas Wildlife Refuge

On Monday, we took a trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. We came by the North Route. In a grain field being harvested by a farmer, we saw a flock of Sandhill Cranes with two Whooping Cranes feeding on the leftover grain in the field. We stopped at the Visitor's Center to obtain a pass, hit the restrooms and purchase bottled water. I bought my uncle a cap for a keepsake. As I stepped outside of the building, my uncle was conversing with the Head Staff Biologist. He told us that they had been keeping track of the Whooping Cranes along their migration route, but that they had lost them as they approached the refuge. My uncle told him where we had spotted the two cranes and I explained that we'd come by the North route and approximately where the farm was. About five minutes later, two women and a man, all of whom must have been staff biologists, hopped in a vehicle and sped north to find the cranes. The head biologist told me that they were using DNA analysis on the captive bred Whooping Cranes to prevent inbreeding. They had no control over the breeding of the wild individuals. He also made the astounding admission that the Whooping Cranes leave the refuge at night to roost around Aransas and Corpus Christi. I thought it remarkable that the refuge really isn't much of a refuge for the Whooping Cranes. Their roosts need the protection as well as their winter habitat, but the roosts must be on either private land or marshes owned by the State of Texas. (The state owns the first 100 feet or more of shoreline along the coast.) The federal government has the authority and the power to obtain that land if needbe. Either there's no problem, or there's not enough money to make a deal. It'd be a shame to waste money saving a species and lose the entire species because the roosting areas were lost.

Viewing Area Number 1 at the Refuge

Adult American Alligator in the middle of the frame.

Shortly, afterwards, I spotted an Eastern Phoebe and a Red-shouldered Hawk. We also saw Javelina, feral Pig, Armadillos, and a Gray Flycatcher within the refuge.

Juvenile American Alligators

Three Juvenile American Alligators sunning themselves. Within the puddle, one can see the eyes and snouts of 7-8 more juveniles.

Crested Caracara with Turkey Vultures Eating Carrion

Turkey Vultures and One Crested Caracara Feeding on a Feral Pig Carcass. The caracara is the faint smudge to the right of the second group of three vultures on the far right. It's between the far right group and the next group of vultures. Unfortunately, it was too far away for my phone's camera to get any resolution.

Here's a better photo.

Crested Caracara

North Padre Island, Corpus Christi, TX.

Sunset: Moon Rising over the hotel A minute earlier, White Pelicans were using the updraft of the sea breeze as it hit the hotel to gain lift. They seemed to be riding an invisible elevator upwards, then they veered off towards the ocean. My uncle remembers them being Brown Pelicans.

That night, my uncle and I ate at Snoopy's. We spotted a Great Blue Heron, a Black-Crowned Night Heron, and a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron on the walkway next to Snoopy's rear outdoor dining area.


December 7th: Corpus Christi, TX

Raptors seen on Interstate 37 between San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

Unknown hawk between San Antonio and Corpus Christi. It's perching behavior is that of a Rough-legged Hawk, but it looks like an adult White-Tailed Hawk.

A juvenile Broad-Winged Hawk being in the moment perched on an exit sign across from a Rest Area on Interstate 37.

We saw numerous Black Vultures on the roadside. Some were feeding on roadkill. We stopped at the Hazel Bazemore State Park where State Highway 77 branches off from Interstate 37. It was a pretty park. It seems many birds stop there on their migration to and from Central and South America. We saw a Green Jay, a Belted Kingfisher, Inca Doves, a Turkey Vulture, a few small birds, and common waterfowl.

North Padre Island, Corpus Christi, TX.

Smoke from marsh grass fires obsuring the setting Sun at North Padre Island.The view is from the beach looking west towards the Sun. Our hotel is on the left in the distance.

Once we got to Corpus Christi, Texas, Uncle John and I took a stroll down the beach before dinner. We saw a Lesser Yellow-Legs rummaging at the surf's edge, White Pelicans diving for fish, a hawk checking out the marsh grass behind the beach, as well as various seagulls.

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December 6th: Austin, TX

Saturday, December 6, we packed up and headed south to Corpus Christi, TX. En route, we stopped in Austin, TX for the evening. My relatives wanted to see the sights. We walked along Town Lake near Interstate-35. We saw Mute Swans, various water fowl, a Downy Woodpecker, and I believe a Nashville Warbler.

Northern shore of Town Lake (Austin, TX) on jogging trail not far from I-35, looking south

That night we visited Sixth Street. Sixth Street is a shadow of what it was when I was a student at UT Austin. Businesses had closed down. Ester's Follies and the Driskill Hotel were still there. There were more older yuppie type couples roaming the streets than students which was a shame in a way. Austin's youth charged, energetic, and cheap, university-driven atmosphere has been replaced by a culture catering to couples with money to spend for the most part. Austin used to be the place to be for Texas musicians. Sixth Street has clearly suffered in some ways. After dinner, we stopped at a bar with live music for a beer.

At a Sixth Street Bar.

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December 4-5th: Dallas, TX

Squirrels feeding on birdseed

Thursday, December 4, was a clear, cold day. A cold front had blown through the previous night and the north wind would cut through you. The first thing we saw upon arriving was a Wild Turkey hen. It seems likely that the hen heard a recorded turkey call that's part of an exhibit for children. The kids can play various recordings of bird calls and this bird was flying by and had heard the recording and decided to investigate. She had decided to stay for the time being because the staff were providing bird seed for dove and other wild birds that inhabit the gardens. You can see squirrels feeding on some of the seed in the above Flip video my uncle made. Besides the Wild Turkey that day, I saw a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, a House Wren, another wren we couldn't identify, a Pine Sisken, and a Blue Jay. I wasn't writing any birds down, but my uncle sure was. For the most part, I remember shivering in my clothes everytime we passed into shadow where the wind was blowing.

Friday, December 5, was a bit warmer. I took Uncle John, Annie, and my ex-wife, Mori Lou, to the Dallas Museum of Art to see the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit. It was interesting to see the history of ancient Egypt and how the wealthy and powerful lived. The modern day equivalent would be to visit a Presidential museum.

Plano School Bus Parked outside of the Dallas Museum of Art. Dallas Cultural District of downtown Dallas.

At Little Elm Park, in Little Elm, TX., we saw an American Kestrel.



December of 2008 was for the most part joyous. My Uncle John and his wife, Annie, flew in to DFW International Airport on December 1,2008 around 9:30 P.M. The inital meeting was awkward at first. I walked right past both of them in the baggage area since it had been almost twenty years since I had last seen Uncle John (my Mother's youngest brother) and I had never met Annie. I walked around the baggage carousel and stood next to an older couple. The woman was sitting down and had a cane. The man was slightly balding with white hair and about 5'9" in height. I looked at the man and he looked at me and we both recognized each other at the same instant. I got them situated at a local hotel and went back to work. As soon as my "week" ended early Thursday morning, my three weeks vacation began. I drove over 3,000 miles without leaving the borders of Texas acting as guide. I helped my uncle see over 120 different birds. I learned about bird watching from him, and how to use a pair of modern binoculars. I gave Uncle John a Flip Mino HD Camcorder for his Christmas gift to use on the trip. It is smaller than a cigarette pack and produces HD (high definition) 720 p videos. The audio is superb as well. My sole regret is that I didn't bring a better camera with me. But since I was driving most of the time, a camera was more of a hindrance. I utilized the camera in my G1 phone quite a bit. The following posts will be about my journey this past month.


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