31 January 2009


This post comes at a rough time for me. Matt and I have been in Houston since Thursday midday, helping Mom shuffle people and paperwork. Dad has been out of the hospital since Thursday evening, but not so much on his own power. It's more like the hospital followed him home. Matt and I have to leave by noonish tomorrow, so Mom will be on her own for at least the next week or two. Sib's update of the day is that Oliver is up to 5 lbs though. *Edit: Oliver is also home now!

Life is generally out there for the seeking.

Right now we are wishing life could be normal enough to venture out for the seekings. Very dear and wonderful friends have been in and out, bringing food, helping shuffle Dad, generally being supportive. It's going to be an interesting road ahead. Ideally we can get a few more people in on occasion so Mom will be able to breathe for a little bit.

For now we are taking time to reflect and be reflected.

Go forth, breathe, relax. Reflect.

26 January 2009

typical "things"

"Matt and Heidi Things" seem a bit strange to some people, I suppose. I hope this post sheds some light on what exactly these "Things" are. We are both a bit different than the rest of our families - we both come from non-birding families, but we're catching up nicely.

Matt's photography usually results in stunning butterfly shots.

...the Heidi-side of picture taking often ends up in the mud.

At this point we balance birds and butterflies and other bugs in our piles of interests. Matt is by far a more experienced butterflier, I'm still quite the rookie but far more distracted by snakes than Matt... with our enthusiasm combined, I fear we may never quite be as well house trained as we once were. In terms of clean shoes, I mean.

21 January 2009

on the heidi-side of life

When blogging anew, it does seem crucial to look at where things are now, see where they've been, and get an idea (perhaps through the aforementioned ponderings) of where things are going. Today follows a rather monumental snippet of history, January 20, 2009, the inauguration of Barak Obama. Oh, and the birth of my nephew(!!!), Oliver James Carothers. Today otherwise finds me at the beginning of the last(?) semester in a 5.5 year-long 2 year degree.

The detour started with 2.5 years at Principia College, where I first majored in Biology before switching to History. Meanwhile the majority of my academic time was spent working on the Principia Solar Car Project, building Ra 6.

Surely by now you're wondering how a bio major could survive on non-bio classes and switch to history while working in a library. So much indoor-time for an outside person. What about non academic time anyway? Dead birds. Ah, yes. By the dozens. Egad, why?! Windows, big shiny ones, right on top of the Mississippi River Flyway. So before and after classes, work, etc, I'd scoot around the buildings and rehab live ones, but more commonly collecting dead ones* (state and federal permits are required for picking up dead birds, my permits were through IDNR and all specimens were donated to U.C. Santa Cruz)
tewa woth cedw nofl, ysfl cmwa

They could go on, but your appetite will probably thank me for the thumbnails and the minimal elaboration. Always feel free to e-mail me with window-killed bird sightings! The more detail provided, the better - I've been adding records to my rather neglected side blog, over at a diary of death and windows.

Quite unexpectedly, at the end of 2005, an academic snafu while transferring out of Prin led to an impromptu 3 month internship at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. One snippet of evidence that still remains is this picture taken with my friend Leigh Johnson (L), the 2005 Birder of the Year.

I suppose my binocular straps still speak of SANWR, but other than Matt, most traces of my time in the Rio Grande Valley have faded. It was notable as being the time in which I finally got around to playing with canoes and regularly leading bird walks and nature hikes, paying more attention to snakes and other herps, actively seeking insect life and otherwise soaking up nature ~1/4 mile from the border.

I left the RGV just in time for my sister's wedding, which was followed shortly thereafter by my dear friend Nick's wedding. The latter was in Austin and the birders among us gathered before the ceremony for some Black-capped Vireo chasings (-m has a lovely pic of BCVI somewhere). It was amid the chasings that I bumped into a fellow I'd seen often at SANWR, first along the C-trail where a rogue Red-naped Sapsucker had loitered for a few weeks. In our brief exchanges during bird walks, I'd become rather fond of the red-bearded regular with the calm, quiet demeanor. So while the Austin area was several hours away from where we'd met and a few hours away from where we were currently living (Houston and Waco, respectively), it seemed logical that I should ask for a phone number with whatever excuse I could muster. Good move, eh?

Phone number and e-mail successfully swapped, I spent the rest of my summer working with a tiny automotive testing company, Caflor Ind. helping move test vehicles from Los Angeles to Detroit. Grand adventures, indeed. There was occasional paperwork (ok, lots of it), occasional brake testing in FL (not too much of it), and then my fall was spent in the booming metropolis of Smith Point, TX (pop. 127). I suppose there is about 1/4 of it missing, now that Ike has been through. The isolation was interesting, and a 20 min drive to the nearest "real" gas station, cell reception and internet was not endearing. Regular communication with Matt, in spite of the isolation, was becoming quite endearing.

Smith Point is known for its utterly bewildering raptor migration. The busiest day we had that season was ~25,000 Broad-winged Hawks in the air at once, with various other critters passing through. Awesome diversity for all birds, even kettles (soaring masses of birds in thermals) could include Magnificent Frigatebirds, Anhingas, Wood Storks and just about any of the ~15 regular species of raptors that pass through between mid August and mid November. Personal highlights included scanning the sky from a hammock and confusing visitors who had met me at SANWR but couldn't quite remember ("Do I know you from somewhere? You sure remind me of a canoe trip leader....")

I do miss Smith Point at times and regularly threaten to go back again (masochism, perhaps), but immediately following the SPHW gig was a wind farm project in Abilene. Turbines are always larger than they appear. I'm ~5'8 in work garb.

Lest I rant about how energy use needs to be cut, allow me to promote solar energy, passive heating, not killing snakes that aren't an immediate threat, and otherwise thinking about what our impact really means in the big picture. From Thanksgiving of 2006 until now (Jan '09), I've quite enjoyed observing the seasonal fluctuations in nature and certainly harassing the wildlife.... but it's an unsettling feeling. This form of observation at the cost of.. what? Do we really know? "My" farm has 200 turbines for now, ~85 more in the works, sprawls over 2 counties and is the easternmost of a line of over 2,000 turbines that stretch from Snyder to Albany, TX. They do look good on paper, but life's not so pretty on the ground.

The ground is a fascinating place though, for the brave.

Now that this blog entry has reached epic proportions, I'll sum up the last two years like this: for 6 months, I counted live birds. For a weekend or so, I ended up birding central TX with a red-bearded friend. For the next six I was gradually sliding into a state of comfortable closeness with said red bearded fellow while we swapped pages of e-mails and piles of pictures from our respective ends of the earth. For the last year, we've been conspiring together... Also for the last year, I've been trying to wedge myself away from the wind farm (funny how school was an excuse for that). The joint adventures resulting from "Matt and Heidi Things" have thus far been enlightening.

Hopefully in the upcoming days/weeks/months, we'll be able to fill y'all in on our San Diego, Waco, Houston, MO, CA/AZ/NM adventures - I anticipate the road trip being heavy on the leps, for those of you into butterflies ;-)

So with fair warning, I leave you with a turbine and a pump jack.

Creatures featured:
1 - the 2005 Principia Solar "rayce" team
2 - Tennessee Warblers, Wood Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Cape May Warbler
3 - Leigh Johnson
4 - Kindli & Gavin Carothers, the birding party attending Nick Block's wedding
5 - Brown Pelicans
6 - 2.0 MW Gamesa turbines, Sleepy Orange
7 - Eastern Red, Mexican Free-tail, and Hoary Bat, Turkey Vulture, Barn Owl
8 - Hoary Bat, Mourning Warbler, Tarantula (Aphonopelma sp.), Bull Snake, Mystery Mouse, Mantis Fly (Mantispid sp.), some poor innocent froglet, Texas Horned Lizard

A Short Look Behind Matt's Path..

..some jobs, some places, some co-workers.

The picture above was taken at The Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve. Yes, Texas has mountains, and those are Ponderosa Pines. This is probably at ~6500 feet elevation.

I did my graduate work, for Sul Ross State University (part of the TX State Univ. System) in the Big Bend region of Texas, and the Preserve was my study sight.

My study focused on the local populations of Montezuma Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae). Unfortunately, it seems my pictures that I immediately have of this bird are locked up in several old PowerPoint presentations. But you can link on the above common name for a bit of an idea of this bird.

Upon the completion of my M.Sc in Natural Resource Management-Wildlife I agreed to perform some contract work in south Brewster County, TX on a huge piece of property, the O2 Ranch.

I was contracted by the Rio Grande Research Center to perform point counts in native riparian corridors; that is those with Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis):

... and non-native riparian areas, that is, those that contained the water-hogging, sun-stealing, asian originating, Saltcedar aka Tamarisk tree (Tamarix spp.) Biologists in the trans-Pecos region of West Texas have been trying to eliminate saltcedar, through various measures, for awhile now.

But, an interesting evolvement began to take place associated with this Tamarisk that has been such a immense scourge to the Pecos and Rios Grande. The federally endangered southwestern subspecies of the Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) began using this plant as nesting substrate. Hmm... now what to do?? Big question. 'Twas not a part of my job.

I basically sought out both vegetation associations in riparian areas, mapped them out, and did presence/absence point counts of all species seen and heard within 50 meters and outside of 50 meters.

After spending several years in Alpine, TX and the surrounding Big Bend region of west Texas I moved to take a job in the lower Rio Grande Valley of TX.

Employed by the city of Edinburg, TX; I was Park Naturalist at the Edinburg World Birding Center. (EWBC)

On the left, a picture of the 3rd U.S record of Four-spotted Sailor (Dynamine postverta) discovered at the EWBC by B. Basham, photo-documented by MWYork. This individual is a male, warming in the early morning on "Drummond's Turk's Cap," a killer nectar source for hummingbirds, certain warblers, and butterflies. A great native plant to grow if you live in the southeastern U.S.

It was while working in the RGV,three yrs ago, that I encountered an intern on "C-trail" (inspiration for this site's title) at Santa Ana NWR, after ogling a wayward Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis), and thus, a bird that holds a certain significance in my/our life. This intern became a great friend, companion, confidant. This friend became the love of my life.

Teammate. Partner. Friend that I fell in love with.

I have worked various places since that initial meeting, 3 yrs ago.

GCWA Field Technician for The Nature Conservancy at Fort Hood, TX:

Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia), a federally endanged species. This bird nests only in the Ashe Juniper-Oak woodlands of Central Texas. It does not, however, do so well in parking lots. "Hey Austin .... sloooooow down."

After my time at Ft. Hood, I took a position with the USFWS at Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals atoll, NW Island Chain, Hawai'i.

Tern I. is a 35-37 acre islet within an atoll that is 600+ nautical miles northwest of Honolulu, O'ahu. Yep, 35-acres. That's correct, 600+ miles from O'ahu. It is indeed a blue planet.

I invite you all to check out the archives of my personal blog (not really updated lately) for more about my time in the Pacific. http://mwyork.blogspot.com/

I worked with many bird species, but my particular personal responsibilities involved:

Black Noddy (Anous minutus):

Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus):

And Laysan (Phoebastria immutabilis) and Black-footed Albatross (P. nigripes).

Here I am with a BFAL:

After leaving Tern I., I had already committed to a job as Avian Field Biologist for the San Clemente Island(SCI) Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus mearnsi). But my mind was definitely on seeing Heidi. I could not wait to fly back to Texas to see her. By the way, SCI is the southern most Channel Island, a group of islands off the coast of southen CA.

Heidi and I made the most of our time together when I returned to the mainland in early January of 2008. But, I had already commited myself to another job, which grew into a permanent position.

I knew, that very morning, when I left the early darkness of pre-dawn Abilene, that there was something very powerful, very real, very unique yet quite recognizable between us.

That Knowing; it crescendoed that day forward. In fact, it still is.

Every day, I thought of her.

For 10+ months while I worked with the SCI LOSH Recovery and Monitoring Project, it became apparent that I could not continue to be half a continent away from her. In addition, my work schedule would have made things difficult even if our distance wasn't a 2-3 day drive apart.

In a decision that was difficult only due to my loyalty to the project, to these shrikes that I very much care about, and to certain crewmates, I peaced-out SCI and southern CA in mid-December 2008.

The decision most certainly, overall, was not a difficult one due to important priorities.

Within the blur of this whirlwind called life, there are a rare few pillars that stand unmoving, crystal-clear: 1)Friends, 2)Family, and 3) the rare opportunity to be with the one you love and have discovered you would strongly prefer not to live without.

Everything else in life is in motion. This aforementioned third pillar.... This third clarity of meaningfulness; it is a gift that not everyone in this existance discovers.

Yes, this decision was easy. In fact, there was no decision. I am happy, fortunate, grateful, entirely content and at peace.

So friends, family, and supporters; although this wedding ceremony will be quite small and informal, We are most certainly thankful for each and every one of you.

Hopefully this newly hatched blog will become a place that all of us feel comfortable visiting. It's current experimental purpose is to be medium that Heidi and I can use to share more about "Matt and Heidi things."

To members of respective families and friends that may not know about the taller or shorter half of Us yet, this site is meant to be a place we all can visit now, and as June 3rd approaches, and well after June 3rd.

A place that may even, at times, be a location that continues to remind of an important triumvirate to life; to love, to learn, to laugh.