Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Backyard Birds, Part Deux

Last fall I posted a blog about the most common birds that I had been seeing at my feeder. But after a full year of living at this house, I've discovered a few more visitors that I thought it would be fun to add to the list. My first list included the titmouse, chickadee, goldfinch, cardinal, white-breasted nuthatch, hairy and downy woodpeckers, flicker, pileated woodpecker, mourning dove, blue jay, ruby-throated hummingbird, Carolina wren, Baltimore oriole, bluebird, mockingbird, catbird, phoebe, and red-tailed hawk. This one will cover the robin, junco, red-breasted nuthatch, cowbird, chipping sparrow, red-bellied woodpecker, song sparrow, Cooper's hawk, turkey vulture, and house finch. 

American Robin

Robins are harbingers of spring in my New England yard, although we sometimes have a few that hang around for most of the winter. This year for most of the winter I had flocks stopping to feast on the berries of my holly bushes on their way south. Robins have a distinctive bright red chest. They prefer worms and berries, so are often seen hopping along the ground. They often fly close to the ground as well. Their most distinctive calls are a loud repeated scold and a happy "cheer up! cheerily!" sounding call. They often build nests near houses, including in bushes and even in wreaths on doors.  Robins are quite territorial and will occasionally "fight" with the rearview mirrors on cars, thinking it's another bird. 

Dark-Eyed Junco

Although I tend to think of juncos as winter birds, they are around all year. Although similar in size to titmice and finches, they're easy to identify based on their white bellies which don't extend up to their chests and contrast nicely with their dark gray bodies. They also have yellow beaks. Juncos will come to a hanging feeder but more often forage on the ground. They don't make a lot of noise, but will occasionally let out a long chirring call or a repeated "chip chip" that reminds me of pinging a high tension wire. 

Red-breasted Nuthatch

I had never seen these fascinating little birds until living where I do now! They share a streamlined body shape with their larger cousins, the white-breasted nuthatches, and they also occasionally hang upside down on trees or feeders like them. They have a rusty-red belly and chest and a well-defined black-and-white eye stripe, and are about the size of a chickadee. They are somewhat aggressive with each other and with other birds and will often squawk and flap their wings to drive others away from the feeder. They have funny little squeaky, nasal voices that are easy to recognize once you've heard them. 

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Male cowbirds are very easy to identify, as their bodies are glossy black and their heads are brown. Females are more non-descript and are easy to confuse with the many mottled gray types of finches and sparrows, although both genders are noticeably larger. I try not to encourage the cowbirds, as not only are they fairly aggressive and drive other species away, but they lay their eggs in other birds' nests and leave them to care for their eggs! They have a wide variety of calls and frequently chitter at each other or even sing to themselves while they're at the feeder. 

Chipping Sparrow

There are a lot of finches and sparrows that I struggle to differentiate between, but the chipping sparrow is relatively easy to identify, based on its small size, rusty red cap, and black eye stripe. The pattern and color on its wings is similar to a house sparrow, but it is much smaller and the rusty patch on the male house sparrow's head does not cover the top of the head. In addition to a long, sharp trill, it makes a repeated "chip chip chip" from which it gets its name.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

This woodpecker looks a lot like a flicker at first glance, but although they are the same size, the red on its head goes all the way over the top, and the black-and-white mottling is only on its wings and back, leaving its belly pure white, unlike the flicker's gray polka-dotted belly. They have a short, rasping squawk which is hard to describe but easy to recognize. I heard them in the trees many times before I finally saw one at the feeder. 

Song Sparrow

Another small finch/sparrow-type bird that can be hard to distinguish, the dark streaks on the song sparrow's belly help to identify it, as well as its brown eye stripes. Not surprisingly, the best way to identify it is through its long, melodic, trill-laden song, which you are most likely to hear early in the morning. Like many other sparrows, it also has a loud "chip! chip!" alarm call.

Cooper's Hawk
Along with red-tailed hawks, we frequently see Cooper's hawks loitering in the trees near the feeder, hoping to catch a plump mourning dove unawares. The easiest way to tell the two types of hawk apart is to look at the tail in flight. The red-tailed hawk's tail is not only distinctly reddish (usually although not always), it is also short and fan-shaped, while the Cooper's hawk has a much longer, narrower tail. 

Turkey Vulture
Another raptor we see regularly is the turkey vulture. Since the bright red head is often difficult to see while the birds are flying high overhead, the easiest way to distinguish them from the hawks we frequently see is their flight pattern. The vultures have a noticeable "bobble" when they soar, and they tend to hold their wings in more of a "V" position when seen head-on, as opposed to the flatter profile of most hawks. They are also larger than red-tailed hawks, but size can be hard to distinguish in flight. Although hawks will frequently roost in trees near the bird feeders watching for potential prey, the vultures have no interest in the songbirds that frequent backyard feeders. 

House Finch
Let's start with a disclaimer: I cannot tell the difference between a male house finch and a purple finch. Even when I look at photographs comparing and contrasting the two, I can't see the differences described. So I'm grouping them together as house finches, merely because it sounds like house finches are more common. Another example of big differences in coloring between the sexes, the males have a bright to dark red faces and breasts, while the females are mottled brown all over. (Note: I learned while researching for this blog that finches are more likely to have sexual dimorphism than sparrows, so when trying to determine between the two, that's a good starting place!) The female finches closely resemble song sparrows, but lack the sparrow's head stripes, and the streaks on their bellies go all the way to their feet, as opposed to the sparrow's which fades out at the chest.

Now get out there and enjoy watching those birds!

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Monday, March 8, 2021

Interesting Women in History (That You Probably Don't Know About)

In honor of International Women's Day, I would like to introduce you to half a dozen interesting women from history. Some are famous; some are not. Some are famous for something other than what makes them so interesting. But all of them left their mark on the world, and all of them are worth learning more about. 

Hedy Lamarr, Inventor (1914-2000)

You've probably heard of Hedy Lamarr. She was a well-known movie star in the 1940s. But she was so much more than an actress. Born in Austria, during World War II her first husband, a weapons manufacturer, often brought her to business meetings. The discussion was about electronic devices that could intercept and jam American radio frequencies. It occurred to Lamarr that it was possible to defeat such a device by rapidly changing frequencies in a pattern that was known only to the sender and the receiver. Lamarr actually worked on turning the concept into reality, joining forces with a composer named George Antheil. The pair designed and patented a working technology that used a piano roll to move among 88 frequencies, but when offered to the U.S. Navy, it was declined.

Eventually the technology resurfaced and was not only used during the Cuban missile crisis, but has become the basis of current technologies used in cordless and cell phones, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS. 

For more information, check out these links:
Forbes Magazine

Harriet Chalmers Adams, Journalist and Explorer (1875-1937)

Adams lived during a time when it was common for men to explore as-yet-unreached parts of the world, but it was unthinkable for a woman. As well as exploring the globe from South America to Siberia to North Africa and more, Adams was a writer and photographer for several magazines including National Geographic and Harper's, served as a journalist at the French front during World War I, and after joining Britain's Royal Geographic Society but being refused membership in the American Explorers Club due to her sex, she founded the Society of Women Geographers. 

For more information, check out these links:

Adventure Journal

National Geographic

Althea Gibson, Athlete (1927-2003)

Gibson made history in 1956 when she became the first African-American woman to win a Grand Slam title, going on to win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals the following two years. Tennis coach Bob Ryland, who played professionally at the same time as Gibson, has said that Gibson could have beaten Martina Navratilova and both the Williams sisters. And as if breaking barriers in professional tennis wasn't enough, she went on to become the first Black woman to play on the Women's Professional Golf Tour.

In the 1970s, she followed up her career as a player in both sports by helping to provide sporting equipment to underprivileged youth as well as by running training clinics and outreach programs, and by coaching. 

For more information, check out these links:

Thoughtco article

NY Times

Ellen Ochoa, Astronaut & Engineer (1958-)

Ochoa earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford and joined NASA, specializing in optical systems. She has logged four space flights, including a mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, logging over 1,000 hours in space, and was the director of the Johnson Space Center. 

For more information, check out these links:

NASA bio

Sybil Ludington, Revolutionary (1861-1939)

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere." Sadly, no-one talks about the midnight ride of Sybil Ludington. Ludington's father was a New York militia officer who eventually became an aide to General George Washington. When Col. Ludington heard that the British were attacking Danbury CT, 15 miles away, 16-year-old Sybil took it upon herself to ride out and alert the countryside. She rode nearly 40 miles raising the alarm before returning safely home. The Danbury raid was successful, but the Patriots fought the British in nearby Ridgefield and succeeded in driving them back to Long Island Sound.

For more information, check out these links:

Encyclopedia Britannica

Shirley Chisholm, Congresswoman (1924-2005)

The daughter of a father from Guyana and a mother from Barbados, Brooklyn-born Chisolm was the first African-American woman to serve in Congress and both the first woman and the first African American to seek the nomination of one of the two major political parties as President of the United States, using the motto "Unbought and Unbossed". A teacher and political activist, in 1964 she was elected the second African American in the New York legislature. Four years later she became a U.S. Congresswoman, eventually becoming the first Black woman and the second woman to serve on the House Rules Committee.   

For more information check out these links:

National Women's History Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

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Monday, March 1, 2021

2021 Golden Globes Fashion Review

The Golden Globe Awards were a little different this year: There was one live host on the East Coast and one live host on the West Coast, a small live audience of masked (and tested) First Responders, and celebrities in their own homes, most of them still dressed to the nines. All things considered, it worked remarkably well. Cohosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler know each other so well that they played off each other despite being separated by an entire continent, to the point that I occasionally forgot they weren't standing on the same stage. There were a few technical glitches, including failed audio for the first acceptance speech - which, fortunately, was rectified in time to allow the recipient to give his speech, widely varied picture and audio quality from the various stars, and hilariously awkward throws to commercial breaks that included a random sextet of celebrities on Zoom screens dealing with the same difficulties and awkwardness that the rest of us peons encounter in our Zoom sessions. But on the other hand, we got some fun glimpses into the celebrities' homes, the occasional dog wandering through the background (or foreground), and the delightful inclusion of various assorted spouses and children. (One of my favorite moments of the evening was the gentleman who gave an acceptance speech with a squirmy little girl in a party frock crawling all over his lap and throwing her arms around his neck while he spoke. ADORABLE.)

I wondered how many nominees and other celebrities would be wearing formalwear, but I was pleasantly surprised that the vast majority of them were, with only one or two stars opting for hoodies or pajamas. And there were definitely more than enough to justify a fashion blog - so here it is!

Amanda Seyfried looked lovely in a softly draped, off-the-shoulder coral gown with frothy flowers around the shoulders and a short train. The color suited her nicely, and I loved her wavy hair and understated makeup.  

Cohost Amy Poehler started the evening in a shiny black thigh-length dress with a high neck and long sleeves and metal buttons down the front. It was okay, but nothing special. I really liked her second dress, a short fitted sheath with a scoop neck, trimmed with lace at the hem, sleeves, and neckline, accessorized with a simple black neckband. It seemed much more her style than the first. Her third look was much more elegant and traditionally "red carpet," with its plunging neckline being held together with a large gold ring. It was cute and flattering, but didn't feel as much her style as the second look. No bad looks here, but #2 was the best for her. 

Angela Bassett was one of my favorite looks of the night. Her dramatic deep plum one-shouldered gown had a full marabou feather strap and a high slit. She also sported a thick, waist-length braid with a narrow plait braided into it, which added a touch of both whimsy and elegance. She looked absolutely glorious.

Awkwafina's gown was certainly eye catching, although not at all to my taste. I didn't like the colors or the color combination; I found the wavy pattern too busy, especially when combined with a very shiny finish; the tulle sleeves and under-ruffle looked out of place; the bodice was an unflattering shape; and the thick platform shoes looked clunky and overly casual. But somehow it seemed to suit her, so...thumbs up? I think.

Carey Mulligan was one of several stars wearing nicely-draped satin columns. Her ivory gown had criss-cross draping across the bodice and a small capelet. Her gown was pretty and flattering, but not terribly memorable. 

Cynthia Errivo, on the other hand, was distinctly memorable. Her vivid lime-green gown appeared to be made of a textured Spandex reminiscent of surf gear, and the slightly-too-short skirt was supported at the bottom by a single hoop, which caused it to swing stiffly as she moved. It was oddly paired with elbow-length ivory gloves. The concept wasn't terrible, but a few too many details were just a little off, and in the end, it just didn't come together. 

Elle Fanning looked absolutely exquisite in a figure-hugging ice blue, bias-cut satin column with matching shawl. I found her slicked-back hairstyle a bit too severe for her personality, but her makeup was striking and she looked simply dazzling. 

I was not a big fan of Emma Corrin's dress based on the collar alone, which was all that could be seen in her early Zoom appearances, but the rest of the dress was actually quite stylish. I would have toned down the puffiness of the shoulders and the overall volume of the collar, but the silhouette of the dress was lovely, and I liked the scattered pearls all over the dress, the silvery-white cuffs, and the deep slit. Overall, not a bad look. 

Jamie Lee Curtis hit it out of the park in this yellow draped column with long cuffs, full sleeves, square shoulders, and a deeply plunging neckline, topped by her signature silver pixie. Simply fabulous. 

Jane Fonda also rocked a short silver haircut, pairing hers with a slim white suit that emphasized her still impossibly slim figure and perfect posture. Pointed metallic kitten heels completed this tailored and polished look.

Jodie Foster went for comfy chic in Prada pajamas paired with minimal makeup, a simple necklace and earrings, and a sleek bob. She looked both comfortable and elegant. Win-win!

Julia Garner's gown was shapeless, colorless, and lifeless. The silhouette of the dress was unflattering and the wide plunging neckline was not right for her delicate frame, making her look skinny instead of sexy. The dropped waist made the overall line shapeless and broad. I think that if the top had been fitted instead of loose and the fabric had some kind of texture or hint of color to it, it could have worked. But as is, it was just blah.

Kaley Cuoco wore another gown that was much prettier when seen in full view than when seen only from the waist up. Like many red carpet gowns, it did not seem to sit quite right on her figure when she was seated. But the floaty fabric, adorned with silver patterns, moved beautifully, and the simple fitted bodice paired beautifully with the soft fullness of the skirt. A really pretty and feminine look.

Kate Hudson also falls into the category of gowns designed for standing rather than sitting. In her early Zoom interviews, I absolutely HATED this gown. The bodice did not sit right on her figure and looked very uncomfortable, and the puffy black sleeves looked shapeless and droopy. But in the context of the full look, the full black sleeves were balanced by the slim black skirt, and I love the shape of the metallic-patterned bodice and the wide belt. The bodice still sat a bit lower than was flattering, but overall I liked the look.

Kyra Sedgewick wore beautiful blush peach satin wide-legged trousers and a softly pleated, twist-front halter top with a short cape. It set off her coloring beautifully, moved well, and looked incredibly comfortable as well as elegant. 

Laura Dern frequently missteps on the red carpet, but I really loved her look here. A tailored black tuxedo with a peekaboo black shirt underneath and a wide black neckband was a great riff on standard menswear, and although I didn't love the Pinhead-esque shoes, the touch of whimsy was fun, and the bright red lips but otherwise natural makeup and simple, soft hairstyle were great accessories.

Not many people could pull off this ruffled, busy-print dress, but somehow Margot Robbie still looks stunning. A crisper fabric or a livelier color might have worked better, particularly with the interesting lines of the bodice, with its cold shoulders and thin straps.
Nicole Kidman was the picture of elegance in a long black halter column with a pair of metallic gold bands running down the front. I especially loved her curly updo and vivid red lipstick.

Regina King wore a black and metallic silver column that I loved except for the odd line of the asymmetrical bodice. The angled inset was pretty, but the short sleeve looked like an old black t-shirt.

Rosamund Pike's dress was a beautiful color, but the line was just...weird. The narrow bodice was straight and fitted, with wide straps, but then a huge, multi-layered tulle skirt jutted out directly from the empire waistline. I did like the narrow black ribbon trim, but the heavy black tights and clunky shoes didn't tie in. Drop the waistline to the natural waist and accessorize with sheer black textured hose and little ballet flats and this would have been a terrific look.

Salma Hayek's simple red gown featured a halter neckline, a wrapped sash, and a graceful trailing scarf over the shoulder. It set off her figure perfectly, and its simplicity drew the eye to the wearer and not the dress. Sheer elegance.

I am rarely a fan of Sarah Paulson's red carpet looks, to the point of wondering why her stylist hates her. I'm not sure if she used a better stylist or if she styled herself this time, but whatever she did, she should keep doing it. I loved her off-the shoulder, full-skirted black satin gown, her natural makeup, and her slicked-back, flipped-ends hairstyle. It was a little bit retro and a lot bit classic Hollywood glamour. I love that Prada designed her a petalled purple cast cover to go with her outfit; I only wish there had been another tiny touch of purple somewhere to truly tie the look together. 

Still photos don't quite do justice to Tiffany Haddish's striking chain-mail-inspired column. Its mirrored panels somehow managed to be barely opaque, allowing glimpses of long legs and a demure thigh-length underskirt as she moved. One of the most dramatic looks of the night.

Like her cohost, Tina Fey sported three different looks over the course of the evening. She started off in a Judy-Garland-esque thigh-length tailored tuxedo jacket over sheer textured black hose, Which was a fantastic look for her. Her second look was a matronly black-and-floral-print with an oddly stiff A-line skirt and a wide black band at the hem that made the skirt look like a cotton print apron. And her third look included a poorly-fitted gold sequin sportcoat trimmed with red-white-and-blue cuffs, which was not a bad concept, but somewhat poorly executed. Her first look was far and above her best.

Another striking and dramatic look was Viola Davis' African-inspired mermaid gown. The vivid red, yellow, and blue print dress had a fitted column for a base, but burst into a huge mermaid skirt at the knee and added asymmetrical leg o' mutton sleeves, one off the shoulder, for an amazing silhouette. 

But lest any of the celebrities above feel slighted by my commentary, or any celebrities feel bad that they didn't even make it into this blog, let me reassure every one of them that no matter what they wore, they were more well-dressed than Jason Sudeikis. 

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