Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Please stand by

We're in the latter half of winter and starting to feel its stir crazy effects in the office. I haven't been out in the field in weeks. Field work is slow so everyone is mostly in the office. Sickness also abounds in the office, but I've successfully avoided it so far. You know it's boring in the office when a simple thing like a uncommon swan sighting becomes the excitement. We all started making random bird and frog calls to see who's is the best and to test our identification skills.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Finally a snow day!

Finally some actual snow has fallen! It's been almost two years. Last year we got a few sleet/freezing rain days and a few inches of snow this year. I have a big project due today, which had to be driven to Trenton...not by me thankfully. I reasoned that I can't lift the numerous boxes of materials nor was either of my vehicles suitable for a long snowy drive. We had prepared as much as we could yesterday and I reluctantly walked out to my snow covered car this morning. There was about three fluffy inches that I had to brush off and then I started off. By the time I hit the real road, I already saw one car driving erratically with its hazards on. Not a good sign even if it was a real wheel drive car. So after passing this scary car, I pulled over and called work. Do they really need me to help finish up the project or can I work for home today? They said I was not really needed so back home I went. Woohoo. So I've been working from home while catching up on my stories. Funny how some soaps just never change. Patch and Kalya are back on Days of our Lives. I guess once you are on a soap, it's next to impossible to really leave.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mousecapades are over?

It might be premature but I believe my mouse harvesting days may be over. I had removed the traps during my weekend at Vermont and vacuumed the presents up. When I came back there were no new presents. Plus I haven't caught a mouse in a few weeks and it has been cold. Keep your fingers crossed that they guys have moved onto greener condos.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Vermont...climate change edition

So far the past two winters in NJ have resulted in barely any snow. To get to real winter, we have to drive up to VT. Last President's Day weekend we went up to VT right after a record breaking snow storm. We are talking about 4 feet of snow and people shoveling their roofs. It was quite the journey and weekend full of obstacles and stories. This President's Day weekend I came prepared with flashlight, handwarmers, and extra gloves. The drive up went off without a hitch, until we got into VT where it started snowing. There was a light coating on the roads which made driving a little more precarious. We took precautions while driving and were probably about 30 minutes ahead of the other car in our group. They caught up and took the lead on the winding and hilly hour long final stretch. We were about to go through a blind curve over a bridge when the other car was seen dead stopped in the middle of the road. We slammed on our brakes and thought there would be an impact. Lesson one kids - Even if you think there's damage to your vehicle, please pull safely over to the side of the road in a blind curve to avoid another accident. We barely stopped in time. We made it to the house and driveway had been plowed but there was still about an inch of snow. We made it almost to the top when we couldn't go forward because we kept slipping. Regardless, we were happy to have made it and finally get out of the car. The dogs couldn't have agreed anymore.

There was probably about 2 feet of snow on the ground and awesome icicles coming off the roof. The next day we were off the grocery store where I spent a ridiculous amount of money on food and wine. For some reason, I thought that a crazy blizzard would come by and we would be trapped inside the house for the rest of the weekend. It probably didn't help that it was snowing the whole time we were at the grocery store. The parking lot was a sloppy slushy mess and we loaded the trunk and car completely full. Of course, we didn't make it all the way up the driveway because we were so heavy.

Overall the weekend was quiet, full of reading, watching movies, hanging out by the fireplace, playing Wii and with dogs, eating, drinking, resting, and the occasional outside snow play. I finished two books and should have brought another. Speaking of eating, here's another lesson for the kids. When cooking or baking something that's extraordinarily messy, sticky, greasy, etc., it's important to clean the pot/pan ASAP or at least let it soak immediately with soapy water. A large amount of bacon was made one morning and the pot was not cleaned that day. I think it finally made it to soaking a few hours later, but the damage was done. Burnt on bacon grease was almost impossible to remove. I tried later that afternoon with a steel wool, but I couldn't get even a small patch off. Another tried later that day as well with the same result. It was left to the last morning for frantic extreme cleaning with steel wool and abrasive cleaner. It still wasn't 100 percent cleaned and I'm sure we'll hear all about the repursions from this even if the house is even more sparkling clean than when we first arrived. Only one of the three dogs really enjoys snow and water play. The black lab just loves to hang out in the snow and attempt to catch snow in her mouth. Even with 2+ feet of snow, she still manages to wiggle her way through the snow. In the summer, she is completely obsessed with the pond and is still drawn to it in the winter. She would disobey orders and run towards the nearby drainage ditch that goes into the pond. The other dogs were obsessed with the ice/snow melt inside the house. Boots would be licked clean and any wet spots were quickly drunk up.

I had my first snow shoeing adventure. I did pretty good and had only one spill. I really should have brought the ski poles to help me, but no matter. It's still a workout since you sink like 5 inches down in the snow.
The last day we woke to super warm temperatures and most of the icicles were history. It must have been at least 50 degrees, which was insane. Our local road that is mostly sand and gravel became like driving on a wet beach. Thankfully, no one was coming the other way when we were coming down.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chariots of Cashew

Field work has come to a grinding halt thanks to two large projects that require a lot of office work and have short deadlines....aka the boring zone. So in the meantime, enjoy my latest video attempt. Not heard on this video is the funny hissing noises Cashew makes. Apparently it's just a reflex of air going in and out of their lungs....not an angry noise.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The ridiculousness continues

I have a fireplace and need a place to store some firewood. It's not a tremedous amount, but enough for a few burnings per week. I have about 4 boxes of wood nicely stacked in a corner on the deck near the sliding glass door. I also have a broom and snow shovel on the deck. That's it. Technically, we are not supposed to store anything on the deck. Again, this rule is randomly enforced to the condo board's advantage and we received notice that we are not to store firewood in the garages. That doesn't leave us with many options. Within empty boxes or on top of the boxes, I have a plastic bin that I put cold ashes from the fireplace. I scatter them at my parent's woods when I got restock my 4 boxes with wood. I knew I was playing with fire with the condo board, because they knew of my birdfeeder and my reluctance to remove it.

About a week ago, I recieved a notice in the mail from the "District Manager" of the condo. I had met him at the meeting I had previously attended. He had remarked that I looked "lost" when they were attending to condo business before my discussion. I was not "lost" but rather bored, trying to control my anger, and collecting my thoughts. Grr! Nevermind the fact that I was addressed as Mrs. in the first notice and my named was misspelled in the second notice. Below are the highlights of the latest notice.

"During a routine property inspection, I noticed that you had a few cardboard boxes containing wood. I also noticed a container of bird seed being stored on your deck. There was squirrel activity in and around both the wood box and the seed container which drew my attention to this issue. I would like to thank you for removing the previously installed bird feeder. Unfortunately, the squirrels are still attracted to the area and the seeds. Please remove the seed container from your deck as soon as possible so we may avoid and (sic) wildlife problems in the future."

Hey jerk, when is the last time your eyes were checked? I ask this, because you routinely miss the real problems with the wall lights that are about to fall off, rotten wood in the trim of the buildings, the rotten wood on the walls of my garage, the 2 large squirrel nests within 20 feet of my deck, and the fact that it is not bird seeds in the container, but ashes! Yes, I do scatter bird seed on my deck on the weekends. It's waste free so good luck finding the evidence on monday. But I'm not stupid enough to store it on my deck. I know what lengths all animals will go to in order to get into a container of food. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows this. So I'm guess you never had a pet or you have someone else take care of it I also know that the birdfeeder was up for 5 years and there 2 squirrel nests within close proximity. Plus I scatter seeds on my deck and I have 2 secret feeders in the bushes. So guess what, there's going to be squirrels and birds around. Plus they stash their goodies in the wood boxes, which I routinely dump out.

Becasue there isn't a seed box and there wasn't a timeline or a threat of fine, I am not doing anything different. I still have my list of repairs, but I'm going to wait until March to give it to you. That way my wood boxes will be gone and it'll be "warm" enough for them to do their repairs. That's one of their reasons for delaying repairs. Guess they must be from the equator considering we've had some nearly record breaking warm days.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Boot upgrade

A few months ago I ordered a pair insulated rubber boots. In the winter, regular rubber boots are just plain frigid no matter how many pairs of socks you wear. My usual pair of boots is the cheapest model and I have to wear 2 pairs of fluffy socks no matter what. That's because I would get blisters within 30 minutes of wearing of them. Good times in the hot and humid summer!!!! Granted they are made of a tougher pvc type rubber, so that's probably why they are so hard on my feet. I was all excited about this new pair, but then I realized that I couldn't get my feet out of the boots if I wore two pairs of matter what thickness. I was worried that I would instantly get blisters. But no! My feet have stayed toasty, blister free, and comfortable. I think it is because they are made of a softer rubber and have support inside.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


That's the affectionate term used for Pennsylvania at work, but it's all in good fun. I've been working on some wetland permits for a large site out there, but had never been to the site. So a coworker and I headed out there last week. I happened to check a national news website the night before and clicked on a story "Body parts found along I-80." I was thinking that would be a very slim chance that this unspeakable crime had taken place in an area that I frequent/or had frequented in the past. But sure enough, it was very close to my site! There was a ton of police activity that day along Route 80. There were numerous state troopers walking along the highway, atvs, and a helicoptor flying above. On the ride home, we saw three cops in one spot. One on a cell phone and standing over what appeared to be a plastic bag. Creepy. This is the type of thing I hope never to encounter in my field work. I have a hard enough time dealing with dead animals in the woods. You can smell them way before you see them....and then you get frantic trying to locate the carcass at a reasonable distance. I just checked the local news site and the victim has been identified, so at least there will be some leads in the case. Clearly, the killer wanted to be noticed and I'm hoping they get what they deserve. If you want to read more, check out
This reminded me of a story that I heard from a professor back in graduate school. He takes a yearly field trip to this remote canyon. It's a 1.5 hour hike over boulders just to get there and it's covered in poison oak. Once you get there, you almost need mountain climbing gear to get up the side slopes. I smartly volunteered for the stream team. This field trip is notorious and it's great that previous students warn the current ones, because the professor makes it seem like no sweat. Students have stayed there after sunset, so people bring flashlights just in case. But something like 8 years before my year, the students had found a human skeleton. They collected the bones and when they got back to civilization, they called the cops. The cops were mad that they ruined the crime scene, but they were unable to find more bones at the scene. It turns out if was a 1960's biker who had been executed with a bullet to the head. Did I mention this is all mountain lion territory? On our hike back to the van, we were fairly certain that something or someone was trailing us in the woods. Mountain lion, perhaps? But we all made it back safe and left our notes and cheap equipment (measuring tape, clipboards, etc.) on the dash of the professor's van. Even though this place is pretty remote, our notes and equipment were missing by the time the others came back.

Anyhoo, back to Pennsyl-tucky. Most everything was covered with hard snow covered with ice. It made walking a challenge and I thought the whole day would be a bust until our last stop. The stream was unfrozen and pretty. Woohoo! We started our aquatic bug sampling. For some reason, I'm a lot less squeamish about touching aquatic bugs as compared to the regular kind. I won't even mention how cold the water was and my hands. I'm fairly certain my co-worker had the beginning stages of frost bite, but he was in denial about it. There was also a surprise of salamander larvae! Enjoy my super blurry shot. Still not sure which kind it is. I have two possibilities and depending on the hour and the day I change my mind about which species. I almost wanted to take some home and try to raise them with Cashew, but I think they would hate it and probably die.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Welcome to the A.C.

I am not sure if I have ever been to Atlantic City. I have no memories of being there and my parents aren't gamblers so I don't think I was there as a kid. This week I had a site down there, so birdman and I ventured off on the epic drive to and from the A.C.. I can't say I was impressed by the casinos. They give me an overall feeling of despair, cigarette smoke, and lost money rather than luxury, cheeriness, and grandeur. I won't even get into those 3 dead women they found in a ditch not that long ago in the A.C. However, the windmills give me a feeling of awe, especially on this very windy day. It was so windy that even at a complete standstill on solid ground, my little golf shook so hard it felt like a grizzly bear was rocking it.

Our mission was to assess the site for threatened and endangered shore birds. The heart of winter is obviously not the ideal time to do this, but the good news is that you can spot old nests in the trees. No appropriate nests were spotted, but we saw two rare shore birds. It was my first sighting of either species and I was excited to point out the first one. Albeit I didn't know what exactly it was at first, but I was the first to spy it. Once I looked into my binoculars I got that cute bird feeling and had a suspician as to what general type of bird was. I keyed it out and reluctantly revealed my guess to birdman. I was correct and I had noted a characteristic that he never had paid much mind's white booty.

The site seemed to be built up with fill material...garbage, asphalt, bricks, broken bottles, metal parts, and other crap. The vegetation was a tangled thicket of poison ivy (in shrub form complete with berries....yum...jk) and honeysuckle vines that seemed to engulf everything including entire trees. It was a battle to walk anywhere off the cleared path unless you wanted to walk in the salt marsh with its random mud flats that have the potential to act like quicksand.....nevermind the crazy biting wind out there.

The one thing that always depresses me at shorelines is the prevalence of floatable garbage and debris. If it floats, its along the shoreline in great quantities...from plastic bottles, shoes, foam, wood, wicker, etc. It's a losing battle too. Because even if you clean it up, the next high tide brings in a new load of garbage.

And when I say a lot, I mean a LOT. Check out this stash of wood that's floated in.

I did find one nest...not from our target bird species...but a cute one made of grasses. Check out the tangled mess of vines and vegetation below it. Not fun to walk in...kartek trips and falls hazards.