with the temperature in the 60's i took advantage of the warm weather and decided to do a bit of naturing while i still had the chance. great meadows in concord was the venue and i took a new route which i was busy memorizing before i left the house. half the fun was the ride itself, perhaps my last long distance ride of the year, so i savored it as much as possible. with the weather so nice, i was afraid great meadows would be crowded with people, but there were just a handful of cars in the parking lot by the time i arrived. with the camera and binoculars around my neck, i walked into the refuge.
the few people that were there were mostly senior citizens, who are the only folks with that sort of free time to go birding in the middle of day. occasionally a local jogger might pass by. from the path it was easy to see that the marsh was teeming with ducks. once i mentally filtered out those ubiquitous canada geese and mallards, there was still a lot of water fowls i wouldn't normally see, and a few firsts as well.
on the bird checklist blackboard out by the entrance, somebody had wrote "110 green-winged teals," a bird i've never actually seen before in the wild. i didn't recognize them at first, even though i saw the brown-headed males. they're actually pretty good at hiding, being the smallest species of ducks around (smaller than wood ducks even). with the sun directly behind them, i wasn't able to make out the shiny green ear patches, a tell-tale characteristic of green-winged teals. the females are less conspicuous, although i did catch a glimmer of green while observing one preening itself. it's only when they're all in flight did i get a good look at the green patches on their wings.
another first were the northern pintails, which the sibley guide calls, "the greyhound of ducks," because of their streamlined appearance. even though they're wary of humans, they still stand out from aa distance because of their white breasts. i also saw several coots, which are easy to pick out as well - they're the only black birds with the white snouts. they're actually kind of scary looking if you see them up close because of their red eyes. elsewhere, a harrier hawk was circling the marsh, scattering the ducks, trying to catch a meal. this is only the second time i've seen a harrier before: the first time was last february 2006, when i spotted one at halibut point.
i basically walked towards the end of the gravel path before turning right back around. even then, i still spent 2 hours at the refuge, scanning the marsh with my binoculars, trying to spot some more ducks, occasionally snapping some photos. a place like this, it reminds me of a zoo, except all the animals aren't in cages, and in order to see them, you have to find them because they could be hiding. walking out i met a photographer named ken with a long telephoto mounted on a tripod (the lens, in case you're curious, was the canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS). "it just won't stop!" he exclaimed, referring to the harrier hawk he was trying to photograph. "i come here just to see them," he told me. we had a conversation, he confessed he wasn't a birder (me neither!) but just recently got into bird photography. despite his self-proclaimed amateur status, most of the bird photos out by the entrance were all taken by him. besides the harrier, he really wanted to get a good close-up of a wood duck. even with his super telephoto lens (outdistancing my telephoto by 100mm), he still seemed envious of some of the other bird photographers he sees with even more powerful lenses (he also told me he had a 500mm russian lens, which i think can be used to photograph planets). an elderly couple showed up and apparently they knew each other. the couple were real birders, having just spent a month in australia on a birdwatching expedition. they were there to add some birds to their checklist, which they reset every month apparently. ken told the couple about his photo management system, which is to burn everything onto discs ("i have a stack this high," he showed us with his outstretched arms) - a strategy i don't agree with because it then becomes impossible to find any photos. i left them to continue their conversation as i said good bye and headed out to the parking lot.
i returned to cambridge by 3pm and had some lunch at the cafe. this morning zhu lei left for work around 10am, which seemed later than usual. i didn't actually see him but heard him in the kitchen from my bedroom. by the time i came out he'd already left. before i went to great meadows i was at my parents' place taking apart my sister's old PC to check if it had an AGP port (it did, more on that later). back at home, i finally had some quiet time. zhu lei didn't get home until almost 8pm, and by then i was nearly done with making dinner, pasta with vodka sauce. he told me he had something to tell me: he lost the only key to the bicycle lock (a kryptonite u-lock). apparently he had it locked to the handlebar but forgot to take out the key, which fell out on his way to work. he asked for the location of the nearest bicycle store, but i figured it was a problem best left for me to solve so i told him i'd take care of it. and by taking care of it i mean buying a hacksaw and cutting off the lock. he never said he was sorry but maybe he'll make up for it by buying me a new bike lock. after the bad news, i asked him if he wanted some of my pasta dish.
7-0! can you believe it? celtics! before anyone goes calling me a bandwagon rider, i just want to say that i used to be the greatest celtics fan of all times, but then danny ainge and doc rivers came to town and completely ruined the team. when jim o'brien took the celtics to the conference final in 2002, that was the highlight, and ever since then it's been downhill - until this season that is. i still think ainge and rivers are malignant tumors that should be removed, but the team thus far seems to be bringing some of the former celtics glory back. i thought the nets might have a chance to hand celtics their first lost of the season, but new jersey sucked. i heard this from some television sports guy, but the celtics seems to be playing with end-of-the-season intensity while the rest of the league is just getting started. the triumvirate of pierce-garnett-allen is like an unstoppable 3-headed offensive-defensive machine. okay, enough talk. this friday's game against the miami heat could be interesting. that is, when miami used to be good, but so far they're 1-7 in the season. but now with dwyane wade back in the lineup, the heat could still be a problem for the celtics, with guys like mourning and o'neal. but the real litmus test comes the friday after thanksgiving, when the celtics go head-to-head against the lakers - just like old times! can't wait. (when was the last time i said that about basketball?)
finally, contacted a guy on craig's list selling an ATI radeon 9700 pro AGP card for $60. i'm thinking about getting a new LCD monitor, but first i'd like to upgrade the video card on my aging G4. but like so many legacy mac operators, mac-compatible video cards are a rare and often times expensive acquisition. and most distressing of all is the exact same card for the PC usually sells for much less compared to the mac version. what's the difference? it's all about the ROM's. so i've been toying with the idea of buying a cheap PC video card and flashing the ROM to make it mac-compatible. for that i needed a PC that has an AGP port, and thankfully my sister's old PC is such a machine. i was all set to buy this used video card but i just discovered i can buy the exact same card for half the price on ebay, so i think i'm going to go with the online auction solution.