And I Hate Billboards

I believe; I do; that corporate America is slowly but surely adopting the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. The Ferengi, if you lack the requisite cultural knowledge, is a warp capable species of humanoids from the Alpha Quadrant. They may lack the ten commandments, but they have their Rules of Aquisition. Rule 97, “Enough is never enough,” and rule 239, “Never be afraid to mislabel a product.”

And I hate billboards. I hate the shape, a rectangle, like a football field, sometimes altered like the one I just passed, with a half moon atop and to the left side. It’s designed to accommodate the hair on the head of a woman, a shameless huckster.

The straight line of the rectangle is distorted, the head, or at least the hair on the head fills the half-moon poking from the top of the rectangle. It’s purpose to make the image of the woman more real, the woman holding or wearing, or pointing to the mislabeled product. A product that couldn’t possibly do all the things she claims for it.

I pine for the days of “just a little bit will do you.” At least it made a claim I could test. Now its more is better, a dose that is certain to kill if not the body then the spirit. And then, noticing the birds, I laugh. The birds that grace the top of her poking up head. She’s wearing a crown of starlings. I’ve already forgotten what she’s selling. I’m watching the starlings pooping on her head.

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The Gull

We could hear the flapping of wings. We looked up expecting to see a hawk exploding from a nearby tree, but saw nothing. The sound stopped and so we continued our walk along the path at Bountiful Pond. Again we heard flapping, but still there was no bird, and then again it was quiet. We still hadn’t discovered the source of the frantic wingbeats. We continued walking and watching and listening.

Moments passed and then we heard the flapping again, louder and more insistent. And there above us in an olive tree was a gull dangling from a branch, a fishing line attached to his leg. He started flapping again, but he lacked the same energy as before. The hook at the end of the line was attached to his foot, and the struggle had further wrapped the line around his leg.


“We need to help him,” Gail said. I wanted to help too but couldn’t imagine how we were going to do anything. The trunk of the tree was too thick to shake and to shake it might cause the line to tighten around the gull’s leg. The bird was too near the top to reach, and was getting weaker by the moment. What we needed, a ladder, a long pole with a blade on the top, or wings of our own. What we had was none of the above. I thought about trying to climb the tree, but my tree climbing days ended years ago sitting at the bottom of my grandmother’s maple tree looking up.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t see how we can help.” I started down the path. But Gail was not moving. She wasn’t willing to accept that there was nothing we could do. I turned to rejoin her when a young man came along. He was an animal lover, or maybe Gail’s distressed look was the spark, but he started climbing the tree. He had climbed five or six feet when he reached one of the lower branches and shook it, but that didn’t free the bird. He climbed higher; he was getting nearer the gull, but the branches were slim and though he was also slim I wasn’t sure if the branches would hold. He still couldn’t reach the gull or even the branch the gull was tethered to. Be careful, I said, It’s not worth the risk, you’ve done the best you can. But like Gail he wasn’t ready to give up. I imagined our good samaritan falling. I could see the rocks below and his crumpled body lying there. The good samaritan, a dead samaritan, and the gull still dangling from the tree.

He shook the tree some more but still the gull was stuck. He broke off a branch and leaning out used it to pull the branch the gull was on nearer. All But the branch held, and he had the limb the gull was on in one hand while he held onto a nearby branch. He teetered a bit, and I gasped but he regained his balance. He shook the limb, but still the fishing line held fast. The branch was not too thick; he finally bent it until it broke, and the gull and part of the branch fell to the ground.

We couldn’t see the gull it was near or perhaps in the water right at the shoreline. We hurried forward to see if the gull had survived the fall and if it needed our help. It was half in and out of the water and as we approached it scrambled into the water and began to swim away from shore. The young man climbed down the tree swinging on a low branch and dropping a few feet to the ground. We thanked him for his help as we watched the gull swim away. We continued our walk and our search for the Red-necked Grebe, which we soon found, but it seemed a bit anticlimactic. We will remember the gull and the good samaritan for a long time, but the grebe will soon be just another tick on our Davis County list.


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No Free Lunch

We stopped at Jimmy Johns for Lunch the other day. My wife needed to use the restroom so I said I’d get our order. I got in line forgetting that she was in the restroom and not standing behind me. I ordered two number fours, turkey with sprouts easy on the mayo, when I heard the women behind me start to give her order. Forgetting my wife wasn’t the woman behind me. I said, “I’ve got it.” The woman said, “thanks that’s nice of you.” I explained that I thought my wife was behind me. “Oh,” she said, “does that mean I have to pay for my lunch.” “I’m not sure,” I said. “Are you voting for, the Republican, Mia Love?”
“I am,” she said.
“Well then,” I replied, “there are no free lunches.”

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My Name’s Nelson

Ammodramus nelsoni, common name Nelson’s Sparrow, is a secretive little cuss who spends his summers in Canada and migrates south and east spending his winters on the east and gulf coast in the fall. This account is of one Nelson’s Sparrow, who, a little off course, passed through Utah to the delight of the local birding community.


It was early in the day when I first saw the report, but I had things to do that couldn’t wait. I finished my errands quickly worried that Nelson would leave, and I wouldn’t see him.

It was an incredible find. It was amazing that Bryant spotted him, and it was a state first to boot. I’m sure I would have mistaken him for a Savannah’s who had dipped his head in orange custard, and seeing a bird without a name tag, I would pass right by him.

The plumber was still working on our water heater, when I got home. It was going to take at least another hour. I couldn’t wait. I turned to my sweetheart and said. “I want to chase the bird.”

“You’re going to walk 4 miles, probably in the rain, for a bird you may not even see,” she said.

I smiled.

“Have fun and be careful,” she said.

When I started down the dike road, the weather was nice. I could see birders in the distance heading for or returning from their search for the bird. Did they find him, would I find him?

When I arrived one birder was looking, and one was just leaving. The one leaving said he’d seen the sparrow and pointed at some cattails on the south side of the road. I joined in the search with the remaining birder, Joel. We hadn’t searched for long when it started raining and then hailing, but the weather only slightly dampened our enthusiasm. Mike and Taylor joined us, and we continued the search.

I wondered as the time wore on, given that we were still quite some distance from where the bird was first seen, if the bird would have moved move so far in such a short time. Maybe there was a second Nelson’s or perhaps just a missed ID. The more we looked without success, the less confident I was in finding the bird where we were looking.

Matt had seen the bird earlier in the day and had taken pictures, and so I called him to see where exactly he had seen the bird. The directions he provided were close to the original sighting mere yards away and nowhere near where we were currently looking.

I decided to abandon my current search and head for the original location. I met Joel, who had gone part way up the road, but was on his way back. I told him what Matt had said, and he agreed we should continue the search in that location. We arrived after another 10 minutes of walking.

“Somewhere along here,“ I said, “on the north side of the

“And there he is,” Joel said.

Hi my names Nelson, the bird seemed to say, nice day. He posed for several minutes, giving us great looks. He dipped his head so we could see that there was no white racing stripe or as the birders put it no white median crown stripe like the one his cousin Le Conte sports. Nelson went on for awhile about how he wasn’t a state first, that others had passed through Utah. That no one had noticed could not be blamed on him. The east side of the Rockies was the preferred route it’s true, but not the only route. We weren’t thinking about Nelson’s migration but rather enjoying his company.


We got dozens of photos before Nelson flew, though his flight was more a brief flutter, and then like a little helicopter losing power he seemed to crash into the cattails.

Taylor and Mike were still at the first search area, so I called to tell them we got him. Nelson popped up again, so I quickly stuffed my phone back in my pocket, not sure if Mike and Taylor got the message. It was 15 minutes before they arrived, but Nelson was very obliging and made several more appearances. They both got good looks and pictures.

“Well,” she said when I walked through the door. “Did you get it.”
“I did indeed,” I said and started blabbering about what a beautiful bird it was, cute as hell, I said.
“And I got pictures,“ I said
It was when I showed her the pictures that she got excited.
“We’re going tomorrow,“ she said.

It was 10:00 a.m. the following morning we began the walk across the dike road 1.8 miles, knowing that whether we saw the bird or not we would be walking 1.8 miles back to the car.

I wondered if the bird would be as accommodating as it had been the previous day. I wondered if we would see it at all. When we arrived at the spot, I was still weighing our chances. But there it was, no searching at all, in the same place as the day before. “There you go,” I said, and pointed at the bird. Gail started oohing and awing. I snapped a couple of more photos, and we watched the bird for a while. It would disappear and then a few minutes later reappear. Finally, it seemed to be staying down and so we left.

The following morning, day three let’s call it, I told Gail I’d like to return. You’ve seen it twice she said. I know, but I want to try the road from Bountiful Pond it is shorter than the way we went, and Shyloh tells me that the stretch of road is very birdy. So off I went intent on visiting Nelson’s neighborhood one last time, and maybe taking some more pictures.

I arrived about 10:00 a.m. and found Terry there camera and binoculars at the ready. He’d been there about 20 minutes and had yet to see the bird. Doug, Billie, and Dickson had created an arrow from rocks pointing at the spot where the bird was last seen. It was about thirty feet from where I’d left a fist-sized rock and a spent shotgun shell to mark the spot I’d first seen him.

We watched carefully, and Terry got a very brief glimpse, a dark head, in the cattails. I believe I saw it take one of it’s brief flights a few feet to the west, but other than that nothing. The accommodating bird I’d seen the two previous days had become as Tim put it, “much more in its ammodramus fashion skulking in the cattails…” Barb arrived, and we continued to watch. I’d wandered up the road a bit when Terry hearing a marsh wren turned to Barb to say there’s a marsh wren only to hear her say no it’s the Nelson’s. Terry, in a move that would make a quick-draw cowboy proud, raised his Canon and fired off a quick shot. Amazingly, he got a perfectly focused side view of the bird. The bird once again disappeared, and Terry and Barb left. I decided to stay for a bit since Deedee was on her way. She arrived, but after 30 minutes and a threatening sky we decided to leave, Nelson refusing to give her even a brief look, a bird that was once accommodating was anything but.

It was as Shyloh had said a birdy route back to the Bountiful Pond, and we got some nice looks of a Virginia Rail, another bird with a skulky reputation.

The next days there were more visitors to see the sparrow, and they deserved the brief looks they got. The bird didn’t appear long enough for anyone to get a picture, and the looks were hours between not minutes.

One birder, camera at the ready, spent four hours, and though he saw the bird several times it was never long enough to get off a shot.

Nelson was still there last I heard, but Saturday is the beginning of the duck hunt. If Nelson hasn’t grown tired of the birders pleading for a brief look, he may find the booming of the hunters guns a sign to continue his migration.

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On Flexibility

She came to me with the instructions. There was a picture of two people putting the bottom of the desk on the top. “You see,” she said, “it will take both of us.”

She had bought the desk from Ikea earlier in the day. The problem with most items purchased at Ikea is not quality, but that you have to assemble them yourself. Have you ever looked at the directions that come with such things? If they were directions to a geographic location, I’d give you even odds that you’d never arrive.

She assembled the desk herself, though at one point while taking a break, she decided to write Ikea and suggest that they provide free assembly for folks as old as she is. I offered, the mandatory, you’re not that old to which she replied, “putting together desks I am.”

She got it mostly right on the first try. A couple of railings for the drawers were upside down, and the hole in the top of the desk designed to allow cords from computers and such was in the back instead of the front. But those would prove to be simple fixes.

She returned, her rest over, to finish the job. “There is a lot of bending and twisting,” she said. “You need to be flexible to do this kind of work,” she said.

“Like tying your shoes,” I said.
“Yes like tying your shoes,” she said.

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If You Have to Ask

There is no poop fairy, or so the sign read. I was looking for a Clay-colored Sparrow looking mostly up and not down, so it’s good that the dog owners were heeding the sign, though one very large dog, not on a leash, chose to bark at me. His owner said he was just saying hello, but I recognize that tone of voice, and wasn’t so sure. He finally put it back on its leash. Why is it that every dog owner thinks their dog is perfectly trained and doesn’t need to stay on leash? Everyone knows that Mojo, David Wheeler’s dog is the only well behaved pooch in the state, at least that I’ve ever met.
There was no poop fairy, and there was also no Clay-colored Sparrow though to his credit Kenny stayed around in the searing heat trying to relocate it for us. So reluctantly I headed for home, a big dipper, not for the first time in my life. I considered going back later in the day, but rehydrating after my afternoon, and a comfortable chair kept me at home.
I check my email later and discover that Bryant and the Beyers have seen the bird and not wanting to look for it in the dark I resolve to be there first thing the following morning. I arrive about eight and spend a couple of hours birding. A couple of Spotted Towhees greet me, and a Brewer’s Sparrow gets my heart beating for a moment, but other than the ubiquitous Scrub Jays and a couple of noisy chickadees I don’t see much, and to my dismay the target bird. Matt joins me, and I decide to continue the search for a while longer. Matt I’ve discovered is almost as unlucky as I am, Blue-headed Vireos aside.

We decided that it was probably a one-day bird, and left the poop fairy to her admonitions. It was later that day, in the heat of the afternoon, the same time of day my initial fruitless search took place that Rachel reports she has relocated the damn bird. And so sucker that I am I return to Olympus Hills Park for the fourth time, figuring it was seen in the evening the day before it after being seen earlier in the day, an omen if ever there was one. But alas it was not to be. I’d had enough, I’d missed three times is the charm and a fourth try was an obsessive birder getting what he deserved.

I slept poorly, dreaming of what might have been, the following morning Doug Mead called, from the parking lot of the park asking for directions, I told him about the poop fairy but had no intention of returning. I couldn’t resist however the automatic, call me if you find it. He said he would and about 40 minutes later I heard my birder is calling ring-tone “I like birds.” I asked him where he was exactly and if he would be there. He promised he would and when Gail and I arrived 15 minutes later, climbed the hill past the poop fairy down to the oak by the bench, turned west and started down the trail we spotted Doug just up the hillside. He was watching the spot where the Clay-colored had landed and not yet left. It only took a few minutes before the Clay-colored and a much less patterned Brewer’s popped up to give us a good look. I grabbed my camera for a shot just as the bird dropped down, and then as I tried to get closer, I watched as it flew low and straight about 50 yards to the northwest. It was then Matt arrived and though we chased the birds around the hillside we didn’t succeed in getting a picture of anything but Brewer’s Sparrows. Sorry Matt, but that was only your fourth attempt for the bird, and as I learned it is the fifth time that is the charm, or maybe as the sign said there is no poop fairy and at least for you there is no Clay-colored Sparrow.

How do you know if you’re looking at a Clay-colored Sparrow and not a Brewer’s? First you look in your Sibley’s. You note all the field marks that separate the Clay-colored from the Brewers. The lack of streaking on an all gray nape is a good mark. The white median crown stripe is also important, and the dark mustache is significant. But most important, you’re in awe of how boldly patterned the face is. The pattern catches you off guard like the first time you saw a Lark Sparrow’s face. In short if you have to ask, it’s a Brewer’s.

I was thinking of returning tomorrow for some photos, but Gail tells me we’re going to Clover Springs and scoring a really rare something or other. “Folks are starting to complain when they see us,” she says. Thanks for the Oriole they say and thanks for the Little Blue Heron, but what have you done for us lately.

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The Crowd

The crowd in the square is large.  Some of them are walking.  They are walking in 360 different directions.  Some are following a hypotenuse hoping to save time. Others stay in one place, though even those turn.  Those alone seem to turn away from the sun, though  a subset of those alone, more skimpily dressed face the sun, or rotate slowly as if on a spit.  Those speaking with others, of course, face those they are conversing with though they sometimes subtlety change their position trying to get their backs to the sun, and their conversant, being polite slowly shifts so that they continue to face the one speaking to them.  It is not clear if they are aware of the subterfuge, tolerating it without comment, or making their excuses and leaving on one of the 360 paths available. It begins to rain the square is soon empty.

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