Lifer #498 — Calliope Hummingbird

selasphorus calliope

Thursday, July 19, 2018 — 4:55 pm

Colorado Springs, Colorado — Colorado Springs Utilities Xeriscape Demonstration Garden

Calliope Hummingbirds are the smallest North American bird. They don’t make much noise, and they forage on low flowers, so they’re really easy to overlook. Their range is mostly west of the Rockies, but a handful wander along the east slope in the fall. The “fall” apparently begins in mid-July, because people have been reporting them over the past couple weeks. I made a try for one last weekend at Garden of the Gods without success.

At least one has also been seen during the past week in the demonstration garden in front of a Colorado Springs Utilities office building. The garden features plants that can be grown in the high desert. 

As I got out of my car, a woman walked by with her dog. She asked if I was there to photograph hummingbirds. I said I was. She directed me to a patch of red flowers where she said they liked to hang out. I walked over and soon saw an immature male Broad-tailed Hummingbird. It was occasionally feeding on the flowers, but most of the time it sat in nearby trees. Whenever another hummer would show up, it would fly down and aggressively chase it out of the area. This was frustrating because they were moving too fast for me to identify. 

After about half an hour, a woman came by with a camera. She said she’d seen one on the other side of the building by the parking lot. She wandered over there, and when she didn’t come back after five minutes or so I wandered over there too. She was standing by a small island that was covered by low-growing orange flowers. As I approached, I saw three hummingbirds flying around the area.

The woman left and I settled in. The first bird I looked at was a male Calliope Hummingbird. It hung around for about two minutes, long enough for me to get a few photos.

It was very small, with a short tail. The streaky pink gorget (throat) is diagnostic. It took off toward the main garden, and although I hung around for another 15 minutes, I didn’t see it again. There were several other hummingbirds that continually visited the garden and chased each other. I think one of them, which I got a very close, very brief, look at, was a female Calliope, based on it’s very small size.

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Star Wars

Thoughts on watching all the Star Wars movies — some for the first time in a very long time, others for the first time ever. Overall, I find them mildly entertaining (some more than others) but I have no idea why they’ve become as popular as they are.

Episode IV — A New Hope (1977)— I saw this a whole bunch of times when it first came out, before all the updates and CGI were added. I don’t remember it well enough to know what’s changed, but there were places where the CGI was obviously new and bad. But my main thought is this: Princess Leia wanted to get the death star plans to the rebel base, but in a world with all sorts of funky technology, there was no way to send it digitally? Her only option was to stick a file into a droid and send it off to a planet where a Jedi lived in hope that somehow the droid and the Jedi would meet? And it worked because the droid, that was immediately captured by droid pirates, just happened to be sold to Leia’s brother whom she didn’t know even existed and then only because the droid his uncle actually wanted blew up at the last minute? Could happen.

Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980) — I wasn’t a huge fan of this movie when it first came out. I’m still not. The long bit where Luke trains with Yoda is dull. Luke leaves before his training is finished but somehow is a Jedi anyway. I have a question about the opening scene too. The rebels are on the ice planet where they get around by riding on tauntauns. But they can’t ride them at night because it gets so cold that the creatures freeze. But don’t the tauntauns live on that planet? Why are there any left? And the betrayal by Lando felt like a scene that exists only to drag the story into a third film.

Episode VI — Return of the Jedi (1983) — Jabba the Hutt is a giant slug who’s attracted to human females in skimpy costumes? And why does Luke threaten to use the force in Jabba’s headquarters but then never actually use it? And what was the actual plan to rescue Han and did they have to get all the other members of the team captured on purpose to execute it? OK, the part with the Ewoks wasn’t bad. But the ending … The Emperor wasn’t scary so much as he just looked like he hadn’t slept in a week.

Emperor: “Luke, give way to your hatred. Grab your light saber and fight your father. Then you will become part of the dark side.”

Luke (does everything the Emperor just told him to do)

Emperor: “Delightful. You have now joined the dark side.”

Luke: “No”

Emperor: “Rats. I thought that would work.”

And the Emperor, who supposedly has all the power of the force, can’t even levitate himself or save himself when Darth Vader picks him up and throws him down that wherever it was he threw him down. It seems the force is a rather fickle and useless power. And did the Empire learn nothing in the first movie when the rebels flew down a hole in the death star and fired on that one place that would make the star blow up? Apparently not. They built a second, bigger star with an even bigger hole for the rebels to fly down so they could fire on that one place that made the star blow up.

Episode I — The Phantom Menace (1999) — A hot mess this movie was. The first hour was almost unwatchable. I was repeatedly amazed that well-known actors were able to utter their awful lines with straight faces. It seemed to get a little better in the second half, although I may have just stopped paying close attention. Who was the phantom? What was with the queen’s hairstyles and makeup, and how did she change them so quickly so often? And did it actually say that Anakin was fathered by cells inside his own body? 

Episode II — Attack of the Clones (2002) — That was a lot of movie just to establish who Luke and Leia’s mother was and to explain how Darth Vadar lost his arm. There really wasn’t much of a plot, and what there was I’m not sure I understood. How did Jango Fett’s clone army end up fighting for the good guys? How come Yoda can barely walk with the help of a cane but he can dance a jig while having a saber fight with Count Dooku? And when Dooku took off at the end of the fight, Yoda used the force to push the pillar away from Obi-Wan and Anakin. Why didn’t he toss it at Dooku’s ship and disable it? And this isn’t really about this movie in particular, but Christopher Lee has played the exact same character in every movie he’s ever been in—a pompous, boring prig.

Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005) — Only the most die-hard Star Wars fans could get into a movie when they already know exactly what happens to every one of the characters. It did get a bit more interesting after Anakin finally made up his mind for the dark side. I still don’t understand why Yoda doesn’t use the force to walk without a cane, or why the Jedi can sometimes just point at things and blow them away but usually don’t. For example, during that long, boring sequence that showed the clones killing all the Jedi … Why didn’t they just blast all the clones into the next county? And when did R2D2 suddenly become a fighting droid?

Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015) — Yet another death star with yet another fatal weakness. Will they ever come up with a new idea? And why didn’t they build it inside a tropical planet instead of one that was perpetually winter?  And Kylo Ren—he can whip things all over the place with the power of the force, so why did it take him so long to dispatch Finn? Anyway, this one was more interesting than any of the others (except maybe the very first one the first time or two I saw it), with characters I actually could root for. If the next one’s going to be any good, Mark Hamill is going to have to learn how to actually act.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) — Another way to look at the Star Wars franchise is as a compendium of silly helmets. Seriously. Anyway, since I wasn’t paying any attention when this movie came out, it took me a while to figure out what was happening and when—and why. To explain how the plans for the Death Star got to Princess Leia, they took two-and-a-quarter hours, made up a bunch of new characters that were all killed off, and created bad CGI fakes for several others. Instead of this totally forgettable movie filled largely with battle scenes between anonymous people, they could have just had a character in the next movie say, “The engineer who designed the Death Star hated the Empire and created a flaw so that it could be destroyed. He got a message to his daughter who led a raid to capture the plans and send them to the rebels.” See how easy that was? I just saved you two hours and 13 minutes.

Episode VIII — The Last Jedi (2017) — It appears we’re finally done with Mark Hamill’s grim attempts at acting. The thread about Kylo Ren as a troubled little boy with a temper is getting old. I thought the bit with Poe’s mutiny was dumb. Why didn’t Admiral Holdo just explain her plan? What was the point of keeping it a secret? I do like the characters of Rey, Finn, and Poe, so it was mostly entertaining when they were on screen, if forgettable. What I really didn’t care for was when Snoke said to Kylo Ren, “Well done, my good and faithful apprentice.” At best, it was a feeble attempt at making the Star Wars story deep. At best.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) — This movie had a huge strike against it before it began—if it isn’t Harrison Ford, it isn’t Han Solo. The major plot device seemed to be having major characters double-cross each other, which got ridiculous quickly. But it kept my interest thanks, in part, to a lot more character development and a lot fewer space battles.

Episode IX — 

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Ark Encounter

We made the pilgrimage to Kentucky to visit Answer in Genesis’ Ark Encounter attraction. We arrived at noon, just as it was opening, on a warm summer afternoon. With parking, it cost us a cool $102 to get in. We rode the shuttle bus for a mile or so to the ark. 

Because we were early, we were able to skip the acre or so of cattle gates set up for crowd control.

The entrance was up a ramp under the stern. The first display was a explanation of “creative license.” The took everything they could from Scripture and stuck to it rigorously, then speculated on the rest to enhance the visitors’ experience. For example, they gave Noah’s wife and daughters-in-law names and personalities. 

The Bible has nothing to say about how the animals were kept, fed, or watered, so the museum portrayed what might have been based on what can be known of technology and building techniques from that time—which isn’t much since everything except the ark was destroyed in the flood.

The size is based on the Bible, but the shape is conjecture of a craft that would ride the waves without tipping. Much of the space on the lower deck was taken up by bird cages, bags of food and jugs of water—except that we couldn’t see in the cages, bags, or jugs.

Here’s an example of how the animals might have been kept. The reptile pots had chutes to get crickets and water inside.

The air conditioning wasn’t quite doing its job, so we stopped at a snack bar for drinks. I was happy to find Diet Pepsi on the ark. I’m sure that’s straight from Scripture.

There were museum-type displays on the middle level, including this diorama of the sinful state of the world before the flood.

Most of the animal cages were on this floor too. AIG’s premise, and I think it makes sense, is that every species didn’t need to be on the ark, just every kind. So there were two of the cat kind, two of the dog kind, etc. They included extinct kinds, like dinosaurs and extinct forms of kinds that are still around—like short-necked giraffes that they’ve found in the fossil record—if that form was smaller and more likely to do well on the ark.

There were work areas on the middle deck—Noah’s library, the carpentry shop, the blacksmith shop.

The Fairy Tale Ark gave examples of all the ways children’s books have misinformed and trivialized the biblical record.

The only live animals inside were a couple of alpacas next to a gift shop.

The top deck had more cages and the living quarters on one side and more museum displays on the other.

They had displays on the geological evidence for the flood, flood myths in other cultures, and such like. The final section was a presentation of the gospel on comic-book-style panels on the walls.

Since we were right there, we ate lunch in the buffet in the park. The food wasn’t bad for a buffet.

We walked through the small zoo, but it was hot and sunny and Sal’s foot was hurting. We skipped the camel ride and the zip line.

Was it worth it? I’m not sorry we did it once. I didn’t learn a lot new, but it was cool to see it life-size. Answers in Genesis does of good job of showing that there are valid reasons for intelligent people to believe the Bible account, even if things weren’t quite the way they picture them. It was expensive, which doesn’t make it very accessible for people with a lot of kids or not a lot of money.

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Bird #497 — Cordilleran Flycatcher

empidonax occidentalis

Wednesday, July 4, 2018 — 10:25 am

Pike National Forest, Colorado — Palmer Lake Reservoir Trail

I took an early morning hike to the upper Palmer Lake Reservoir, mostly for exercise and training for climbing Quandary Peak later this month. But I was also aware that I was entering prime habitat for Cordilleran Flycatchers, so I brought my binoculars along. I wandered some side trails north and west of the upper reservoir, looking at birds, butterflies, and wildflowers and listening for the flycatcher. 

By 10:15, it was getting warm (it got up to 90° later in the day) and the trail was getting crowded. I started back down. I was about halfway between the reservoirs where the valley narrows. Just to the south of the dirt road, the ground drops away to a boulder-filled canyon with a creek running through it. 

I heard a high-pitched call that sounded like the first note of the Cordilleran Flycatcher call on my phone app— a rising “suWEEP.” I soon spotted the bird in the dead tree across the canyon visible in the photo above. It moved up and down the creek below my eye level. I kept getting brief glances as it flew between the trees. 

I played the call from my phone and it came to investigate, first in an evergreen down the slope about 30 feet away, then in a tree right next to where I stood, then uphill on the other side of the trail. 

I also got good looks. The marks that can be seen in the photos are:

  • Olive green overall with a yellow wash
  • Ragged crest
  • White eye ring that’s very narrow above the eye and thick behind the eye in a tear-drop shape

At the end of the second video, it took off with another bird the same size, so there may have been two. I was within hearing of its calls for about 20 minutes and had it in view about half that time. While I was looking, a steady parade of hikers walked right past me.

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