I remember as a small child, watching birds out the kitchen window in “Joe’s House” as we called the house on highway P in Cross Plains. We lived that house from the time I was four, until the spring of my 4th grade year. I associate the birdwatching with an extended illness and absence from school when I was in third grade, but I remember snow on the feeder and the third grade absence was in the spring. In addition, I was probably reading too well for the story to make sense by third grade, but it’s my story and my memories, so I’m going to tell it my way.
I remember watching birds out the window and finding them in a bird book. I know, now, that the book is a 1960’s vintage Roger Tory Peterson guide to birds in the Eastern United States. To me, as a child, it was this wonderful book that had pictures of all the favorite birds at my feeder if I could only figure out how to find them in the book. I remember seeing Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy woodpeckers that winter, along with Chickadees, Blue-jays, Northern Cardinals, and nuthatches. I don’t think, that I distinguished between Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches at the time, but the picture in my memory is of a White-breasted Nuthatch. There are no sparrows in my memory – did I ignore the small brown birds, or did we not have them at the feeder? I know I saw Purple Finches and American Goldfinches in later years, and I painted a model goldfinch while we lived in that house, but I don’t have any finches in my memory, either.
I do recall one discussion with my mother about a “small, gray, Cardinal". My mother explained that the female cardinal wasn’t red, but I knew that and I thought she wasn’t listening. This wasn’t an ordinary female cardinal, it was a small gray cardinal that acted like a chickadee. Today, I’m guessing the bird was a Tufted Titmouse, which is present in very limited numbers in that part of Wisconsin in the winter.
But my story is about flycatchers and I digress, so I shall return to my story.
I loved that bird book, and I loved looking through he bird book. (Just ask my wife, how I am about seed catalogs and bird books even to this day!) The book was full of the most wonderful and impossible birds. One that caught my fancy was this bird with an impossibly long, forked tail. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. One afternoon, when the snow was deep upon the feeder, I told my mother that I was going to watch the feeder until I saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Mom explained that we didn’t have Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in Wisconsin. Now, I understood – at least partly – about migrant birds at that time. I knew, for example, that we only saw Red-winged Blackbirds and Baltimore Orioles in the summer. I promptly told my mother that if I couldn’t see the bird in the winter, we’d have to keep the bird feeder out for the summer so I could see one. Much to my dismay, mother explained that the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher didn’t ever come to Wisconsin. I was devastated.
Since that time, I have always wanted to see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. When we moved to Alabama a four years ago, and I started going afield to do my birding, I noticed on ebird that there were occasional Scissor-tailed Flycatchers being sighted at the Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station (Alabama A&M University) in northern Madison County. There were a number of sightings in 2007, occasional sightings in the next few years, then numerous sightings starting about three weeks ago. I’ve driven past the Research Station a few times, but the gate has always been closed, and it didn’t look too inviting as a place to go birding. Most of my trips have been toward the Tennessee River in the opposite direction.
Today, I finally went to the Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station and guess what I saw:
Yes, white birds with a black mask, salmon under the wings, and long tails that open to scissoring forks when the birds fly. I have finally seen my Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, some forty-odd years after I first saw them in a bird book. Everything was just like those pictures, except the tails. Either I saw young birds (which have shorter tails) or the tails aren’t as obviously long in the field as they are drawn in the books.
I think I saw two pairs, but I saw some chasing behavior that might have been territorial, so I can’t be sure. They were in the Research Station on the animal (as opposed to agronomy/horticulture) side, sitting on fences or tall weeds and diving into the grass to catch insects. The tails really do open and close like scissors as the birds maneuver in flight. The tails are long, but not as long as I expected. When I saw the first bird perching, I recognized it by the kingbird profile, white color, and facial mask rather than by the unusually long tail. When I looked more closely, the tail was much longer than is usual for a kingbird, but not to the impressive scale one sees drawn in the various birdbooks. Young birds have shorter tails and it is possible I was seeing a young bird, but I suspect I was mentally adding the length of the long tail to the normal kingbird tail, not to the normal kingbird.
2010 was a year of change in the Spinning Guy’s life, and 2011 looks like it may be similar. Right now, though, I’d like to talk about some of the things I’m doing and something I’ve actually accomplished.
Since April of 2010, I have been working for Intellitar. The company’s name comes from Intelligent Avatar. What we do is make intelligent software avatars. The work is interesting, fast-paced, and quite a change from my usual database and data analysis work. Right now, we have two products – Virtual Eternity and Intelligram – based on our core intelligent avatar technology.
Virtual Eternity is a legacy building product. The concept is you create an Intellitar, train that Intellitar to talk like you do, and leave that Intellitar as a legacy for your descendants to speak with when you are gone. People seem to have two reactions to the product – “cool!” and “creepy!” In fact, quite a number of people have had both reactions. The technology is quite interesting and we continue to add features. If you are curious about building an Intellitar or serious about leaving a legacy, Virtual Eternity is a great place to start exploring the capability of intelligent avatars.
Intelligram is an e-card product. Upload a picture of yourself to be animated, record the message you want to send, pick a background, and send it out. When the recipient gets the card, your eyes blink, your head turns, and your mouth moves when you speak. It’s just plain cool. It’s a much simpler implementation of our technology and because it delivers a simple recorded greeting, it doesn’t require our ai on the back end. For me, it’s a fun product and I see potential to expand into corporate communications as we continue to add features to this product. If you’re really interested, you can click here to see a sample.
Right now, I’m hard at work on a third implementation. It’s actually very similar – and very different – from Virtual Eternity.
Oh, and since this is a spinning blog, I do have knitting on the needles – or I did until last night when there was this terrible incident of stitches falling off a broken circular needle …
There is a lot of catching up to do. Much has changed since I was last writing regularly. My wife is the author of ScrappyPam. She is into papercraft, not fiber. A while back, in an effort to merge our hobbies and provide material for her craft, I started making crocheted flowers. This effort has grown considerably. ScrappyPam has opened an Etsy shop for her paper craft. My crocheted flowers are now offered for sale in that shop. Please stop by and take a look.
I have gotten more serious about my birding. If I ever get any good pictures of what I see, I’ll post them. I keep track of my birds on eBird. What I like about eBird is the data gets used for academic research and conservation. There are plenty of bird sites and birding software out there, and being a database professional, I could just write my own. However, I like eBird and if my hobby (obsession?) has some value to science, I’m happy to contribute. More on birds in a future post. If any of you are also birders, I encourage you to use eBird as well.
I have some new academic/intellectual interest – actually, they’re not new, they’ve just taken the opportunity to resurface. I want to add those topics to my blog and write about those, but not today. Today, I’m just checking back in and hey!, I made a post.
Time to find out if I can still write. We know I can’t keep a schedule on my blog. That last post is over a year ago – a busy year. In that time, I’ve done some spinning, some knitting, some crochet, a lot of job hunting, some birding, gone on a cruise, and taken up occasional paper crafting. I have results to show from most of it – finished objects, a new job, a longer list of birds, pictures and memories from the cruise. Everything shows except the yard work – and the weeds just keep growing.
I have been thinking, lately, about shutting down the blog – especially since I am no longer posting. That lead to some soul-searching. I’m still the same person who started the blog years ago, but I’m leading a very different life. It’s a life that has less room for fiber – and less room for writing. I’m going to keep spinning, keep knitting, and even, occasionally, keep up the blog.
At the end of February, David Smith wrote:
Enjoyed your blog. Where do you have your alpacas?
I have 6 alpacas here in Huntsville.
Hope to see you in next weekend at the show. I will be showing one or my alapacas.
He is referring to the the Southern Select alpaca show which was held recently in the area. I’ve been busy, so I basically ignored it. I’m still feeling set back by my trip to Wisconsin, although things around here are starting to feel caught up – except spring is happening. Our alpacas are on a farm in south-central Tennessee. They are for sale if anybody is interested.
Thank you both for the comments. I think that hat turned out rather well. I have another one in progress – although right now it’s starting to look wide enough to be a sombrero. I’m on the decreases, so I should have pictures soon.
Thank you, Jody. I, too, think that scarf turned out very well. I’m really proud of myself because I “invented” the stitch – although more accurately, I suppose I should say I discovered it for myself because I’m sure it has been used for hundreds of years. Crochet is the comfort craft among my fiber crafts. I learned to crochet as a small boy – almost forty years ago now. The difficulty I have is that I love spinning, and so much alpaca yarn just doesn’t work well in the in crochet fabrics – knitting works better – or at least I often like the knit fabric better. I started playing with a double-ended crochet hook and I experimented until I found a stitch that looked good and rewarded the fiber.