Post 262: the gift (re-edited)

Mandarin ducks don’t occur in Western Nebraska, not naturally. There are people who raise exotic birds who sometimes breed these handsome little Asian birds, and one time (October 1992) one managed to land at Laing Lake, where he spent the winter among a small flock of six male and female wood ducks.

A woman visiting from Arcata, California, a birder, spotted the Mandarin duck. She was very excited to see this life bird, but hesitant to count it because she didn’t think they occurred here.

She contacted the local newspaper and talked with the managing editor, who sometimes wrote about birds in his column. He suggested she contact me since I had some notoriety as the person who had the first and only ever Nebraska phainopepla appear in his backyard.

The phainopepla stayed a couple of months, used the bird bath for water but found food elsewhere. I took photos and reported the sighting to the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union, the organization that reviews rare bird records in this state and determines what class of record to accord each one. Mine got a Class 1 – Photo, just about as good as it gets.

The managing editor felt I probably was sufficiently competent to answer her question because of the phainopepla, but it was just a matter of dumb luck that it chose my backyard and is an unmistakable bird for purposes of identification!

Margaret called me, told me about the duck, which I hadn’t yet seen. I knew wood ducks were up there, having seen them earlier in the season, but the Mandarin duck…! Though I had no doubt she’d see the real deal because they are unmistakable, I told her it probably was an escapee from an exotic bird farm. I promised to go up to the lake and verify the sighting just the same.

After verifying the sighting, I called Margaret back to let her know she was right about the bird, and had she taken any birding outings since coming to Nebraska? She hadn’t, so the next few months I introduced her to the areas and birders that make this part of Nebraska a great place to bird.

The story of the friendship that blossomed is long. It turned out we shared identical tastes in hobbies, books, and music. As far as birding was concerned, Margaret was super at shorebirds, my weakest area for identification, and I was stronger in Eastern birds, many of which occur here along with their Western North American counterparts and, of course, local birds. We were a complete team in the field, though she found the Western Nebraska birding by car method strange enough to comment on! (You have to move around to find the little buggers!)

She had personal family reasons for being here, reasons I needn’t discuss. By late spring of 1993, she returned to Arcata. She came back here for a short time later, but by 1994, she returned to California for the rest of her life.

It turned out that her daughter’s boss at the time was a hobbyist who made decorative duck and shorebird carvings when he wasn’t tied up with his work as an attorney. Coincidentally enough, he also was from Alliance, Nebraska, where I live! Margaret asked him to make a Mandarin duck as a gift for me. He’d never seen one before, but, working from photos created this:

Picture 256 mandarin duck

Margaret died in 2006 from cancer. Her gift is one of my prized possessions, a remembrance of a friend who was good company, a great birder, had excellent taste in new authors she shared with me (and I shared my favorites with her), and classical music (she liked late Romantic and Modern; I like Baroque, Classical, and Early Romantic). What we shared in person and in our letters made Margaret the best of friends, even though she and I spent most of that friendship 1435 miles (2310 km) apart.

One idea she had and shared that really stuck with me had to do with fate. She was a daughter of Polish immigrants. She wrote a brilliant commentary back to me about a Rameau opera I shared with her (“Les BorĂ©ades”), noting that had her family not come to America, she’d be a farm woman pulling potatoes out of the ground, unaware of this exotic music only the upper class heard and enjoyed in Rameau’s time. “We live in the best of times to have access to such beauty!”

RIP, Margaret. I think of you each time I see this little carved duck. Oh, yeah, same with blue-winged teals in all those little puddles and lakes in the Nebraska Sandhills. That little puddle duck you were so excited to see, that I found too common to get excited about every time you pointed another one out along the road now is “our bird” as much as the Mandarin duck that brought our paths together in the first place.

Yeah, blue-winged teals are special, too.

To be or which to be?

When I first set up my retirement computer, I made some decisions that were less than ideal. For example, use of “weggieboy” as an identifier here and other places. It’s meaningful to me, but it has other meanings to others, some not so good! The confusion my user name causes occasionally attracts unsavory people or comments wherever it shows up on the Internet. It prompted me to write a blog called “wedgieboy vs. weggieboy” in July 2009, and that helped for the short-term, if not so much now.

More and more, the user name is a burden, so I want something more comfortable and less provocative to wee brained people trolling the ‘net. I’m just not sure what that new user name might be!

Weggieboy might morph into “birdman”, since I am a life member of an ornithological group. I use “phainopepla95” on YouTube. The phainopepla is a bird. I’m a man. Erm. Yeah. Birdman. I note, for clarity, that I am the first person to make a photographic record of a phainopepla in my state, where records go back to the Lewis and Clark Expedition of May 1804 to September 1806. No one outside of my family saw it since I didn’t realize in 1980 that my record was unique, a first state record accepted by the organization that evaluates and maintains state records of birds. In the 33 years since, no other phainopepla wandered north to sample the lovely winters we have here!

There are people in the ornithological group to which I belong who feel it is unfair that an amateur spotted and gained credit for this record and that it spent two months in my backyard feeding area (January through end of February 1980) as my exclusive rara avis. Snot happens. (Thank me later for cleaning that up a little!) That makes “phainopepla95” a bit provocative as a different user name, but only to a small number of people worldwide. Ha! Many more confuse my current user name with immature behavior involving yanked underwear.

The blog’s evolved into a “guy with two cats” format since the early days, too, with a subtext of retirement issues. The blog might be, then, “Andy, Dougy, and Doug” or “2 cats and a guy” or “a guy and two cats”. Not too punchy, no sizzle, no pizzazz….

How about “birdman and the boys – surviving retirement with two cats”? I often call the cat brothers “the boys” here and in day-to-day references to them elsewhere. Seems a natural! Of course, no one will recognize the new name and I’ll risk losing both the people who subscribe to this blog. It’s a conundrum.

What do you think? Does any possible change above make sense to you? Or do you have an idea you like better?

Here’s a link to “wedgieboy vs. weggieboy”:

wedgieboy vs. weggieboy

mumbling along

“Does anyone read this blog?” is a perennial question most bloggers ask themselves when they update their blogs. There must be hundreds of thousands of these odd snippets floating around in the ether, full of personal insights and commentary on everything under the sun. How do people connect with them?

I follow, irregularly, three very good blogs that have little in common other than the passion and technical skills of their creators. There have been others, also very good, by technically skilled, passionate creators, that I followed for a time, then stopped visiting. No reason. I just stopped stopping by.

I am not certain why these things happen, I just accept that my interests, the time involved to indulge in them, and Factors X, Y, and Z (the latter, unknown) keep me away. Out of sight, out of mind. Like my blog, which I see I last updated in March, which was a very busy four updates month.

If you adore and follow me, the long space between the last of March’s updates and this must have been sheer torture; if not, then join my billions of non-followers, blissfully unaware, possibly better people for it!

Incidentally, part of the reason I’ve been absent is I, as @phainopepla95 of dailybooth and phainopepla95 on YouTube, have been busy with other time-consuming web “stuff”, the videos below, for example.


(Without sound.)


(With sound.)

My brother is visiting from California. Yesterday, my cat Louie amused us with his quirky eating habits!