Overly Dramatic Painted Bunting

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 11.34.43 AM As cool as it is to do work in south Texas during spring migration, things like worm-eating warblers are really distracting when one has serious deadlines looming.

Things have been quiet on the blog and a little bit on the podcast front because I have been knee deep in a fun project with several partners including Swarovski Optik, Princeton University Press, South Texas Nature, Alamo Inn Bed and Breakfast and Birds Eye Birding and well, even poor Non Birding Bill. Here's  snippet of some footage I'm putting together for a program Clay and I going to do about it at this week's ABA Convention (it looks better if you watch it in HD):


So what's been occupying my brain? A web series which will premiere May 8, 2014 on my YouTube Channel. It will air once a week for 8 weeks. All the bird footage in each episode was digiscoped by Clay Taylor and me. And on top of that, all the birds in each episode are a clue to the series theme. If you correctly guess what the theme is, you will be entered into a drawing for a Swarovski Spotting Scope (and a few other prizes).


Each episode is only 5-10 minutes long and features a digiscoping and birding tip and a little bit of info about some of our favorite places for birding and designed to be something you could watch on a break at work--so safe for work viewing for sure.

One of the challenges that Clay and I have filming this is that most if it is outdoors and "pretending" to be digiscoping in great places like South Padre Island during migration. That's when we had the above scarlet tanager fly in front of us. Of course you're going to digiscope that...but do I have an episode that it will fit in based on time of year and the series theme? And aren't we supposed to film some dialog?  Ah well.

Despite all of the challenges, this project has incorporated all of my favorite things: birds, travel, working with good friends and colleagues and stretching all of my creative muscles. Here's a preview if you haven't seen it yet:


If you could share the trailer on your various social medias, I'd appreciate it.  I'm hoping this opens  the door for other bird series (whether by me or others) to show up on YouTube or other venues. If you want to make sure to not miss one of the 8 episodes, subscribe to the YouTube Channel.

The drawing for the scope winner happens in the 8th episode.

I have to give some major props to poor Non Birding Bill, he's had to travel along with me for help. He even travelled with me to the Rio Grande Valley...during spring migration.

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It's weird that so much of my life is on the road and I have a passel of good friends he's never met in person and with this project, he's had a chance. It was also fun to run into the likes of Greg Miller (aka Jack Black's character in the The Big Year movie). Here's Greg trying to wow NBB with birds as Estero Llano Grande State Park. Bill did concede that the pauraques were cool.

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Oh and speaking of pauraques, you know how they're always a possibility at Estero near Alligator Lake? They're currently tucked further back and there are babies! How many birds can you make out in the above photo?

Clay and I had been warned that the birds were tucked a bit. We were trying to find them when one just kind of ambled out and was stretching wings. The bird suddenly noticed Clay and I staring at  it in awe and then it scurried behind a yucca--I had no idea those things could scurry. We grabbed our scopes to try and digiscope it, making sure to stay on the trail. We had to practically hand to be on all fours to see her from the trail, but Clay found her lurking way back. With the naked eye, she looked really puffed out. I wondered aloud, "Is she incubating eggs since she's puffed out like that?"

Clay got the scope on her and said, "She's not puffed out, those are chicks!"

Sure enough, she had two chicks snuggling out from her breast--how cool to see that!

Alas, pauraques do not fit into the series theme for the show...maybe this show will be good enough that I can get another series commissioned?



Birdchick Podcast #168: Bird Pictures

Here's a link to an Audubon article that ticked me off because at first glance I thought it made digiscoping look like a joke. But it brings up a bigger questions of what is a photo and what is art. Examples of photos that have been manipulated green heron contest winner or blue heron and bald eagle photo. Here's an article in Audubon about what qualifies as natural as they had to disqualify a great photo because it was technically manipulated.

Create Your Own Birds and Beers

Monday night I stumbled in from what was a six hour Birds and Beers with 42 attendees! I love that the event gets that many birders out on a week night, but the challenge hoisting such an event is that I don't necessarily get to talk to my old friends who show up and last night I don't think I talked to all the new people. I'm fortunate in that I have Curt Rawn to help out but man oh man, Birds and Beers is almost getting too big. Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 10.11.57 AM

Here's a photo of a restaurant full of happy birders at Grumpy's. I get requests to do them all over--both the Twin Cities and in other states. There's no reason why people can't host their own Birds and Beers. It’s easy, all you need is a social savvy host and the right bar or pub. I have some guidelines listed on the Birds and Beers page but I thought I would repost them here:

How to host a Birds and Beers:

1. Find a bar or pub that does not have loud live music or tvs blaring sports. Call ahead and alert them to what you want and find out if they have a slow night like a Tuesday or Thursday and ask what their parking situation is like--we have some great places in my neighborhood, but parking can be tricky.  Tell them you want to host a large gathering of bird watchers and that you will bring them 16 – 24 people between the hours of 6pm – 9pm to gather, have a bite to eat and drink a beverage or two. Those numbers are based on the average attendance of our Birds and Beers here in Minnesota.  Our rare lowest number was 8 people showing up.  Our two largest events hosted 52 people for the Crow Roost edition and 97 at the Biggest Week in North American Birding Festival edition (those are extreme). Make sure the bar has a server who can handle a crowd that will shift around.

2. Let people know about it.  Ask your local birding listserv if you can post it there.  Ask if you can post it on your local Facebook birding page.  Create an invite page on Facebook and encourage other birders to let their friends know.  See if your local news paper will mention it.

3. This is the key ingredient for whoever hosts it: as people arrive, get the their names (don’t hesitate to provide name tags). Watch as people arrive, you’ll figure out who is shy and who is chatty.  Make sure shy people don’t linger outside the group not talking to anyone, find out their interests and try to bring them over to another birder who shares that interest, or make sure they sit next to chattier folks.

4. The host should run as mediator with the server. Find out the server's name, let them know they can come to you if they are getting overwhelmed or if the kitchen/bar gets backed up. You can announce it to the group. Let the group know that if they are having an issue, they should let you know and you talk to the server. It helps to have a mediatory because large groups are hard on one server.

5. At some point, pause to allow for introductions. Don’t let everyone tell their life story, but maybe go around the group and have people say their name, what part of town they are from and say what brought them to the group. Some people may have  questions about finding birds, someone may have a tour they are leading, someone may have a research project and need volunteers.  This is the time for them to provide that information. Remind everyone to tip the server well!

6. Let everyone feel welcome. We all enjoy birds in different ways, some of us are hardcore listers while others have heard of this birding thing and want to see what it’s about.  Make sure everyone feels welcome and can learn from each other.

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7. Just because "Beers" is in the title doesn't mean that's the only thing you can have: whiskey, wine, tea, coffee and soda are all good.

8. If you start a Birds and Beers, let me know–I think that’s awesome!






A Cleansing 2014 Post & Thank You.

Someone suggested that I needed to do a cleansing bird post... Turkey Vulture

Breathe in the turkey vulture, breath out. Breathe it in once more, savor it aaaaaaand exhale.  And I remember all the reasons I love birds.

In all the craziness of the last week of 2013 I forgot that it was quite the year and mostly I have you to thank for it. My third book came out and went into a second printing--which is awesome because there's a photo mistake in it (BLERG) and we got to fix it. So all those first editions are now collector's items--W00t!  Thank you to everyone who bought a copy of the book!


OK, not everyone wants to breathe in a turkey vulture so let's have a cleansing yellow-headed blackbird. Feel free to breathe this dude in.

One of my favorite parts of the year was being able to give away my old spotting scope and you guys cracked me up with your terrible photo entries for my Bad Photo Scope Give Away Contest. That was the best, I can't thank all of you enough for having the courage to share those craptastic pictures. My Inbox has never been so much fun before. Speaking of which, there will be another contest later this year...it's going to take a few months to build this one and I still need to hammer out a couple of the details, but it should drop in spring, it will be fun and I think have a level playing field.

boreal owl

The boreal owl is no longer my nemesis bird thanks to bird guide Erik Bruhnke. And thanks to all of you who either helped promote or contributed to my Digiscoping Big Half Year, Sax Zim Bog now has a visitor center! Thank you to everyone who gave what they could either on my behalf or one of the other birders in the contest.

And speaking of my Big Half Year that turned into my Digiscoping Big Year...I have discovered that I'm a TERRIBLE lister, I don't enjoy it. I think the album currently has 226 birds in it but looking at my last few downloads, I think I got past 250 but I should have gotten more. I mean, I had a long-tailed duck in walking distance from my apartment and I didn't chase it. Part of the reason was work and then when the opportunity came up to go for the duck, I had a well spent afternoon with a non birding friend instead. I think I will continue to keep Flickr Albums of birds I digiscope in a year just out of curiosity to see what all I can take but getting the longest list is not the way that I enjoy birds.  NOT that there's anything wrong with listing.

Birds and Beers is still going strong and I love hearing from all the people who have them going on their states--I love that the spirit of the idea of birders getting together and being social happens all over. I hope to hear about more in others states...and countries! Thank you to everyone out there brave enough to be the host of one of these gatherings.

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Non Birding Bill's previews of his game show You're Making That Up went well.  He's still hashing it out, but thank you to everyone who came to them as he and Neil figure out what's next. This has also been a tremendous year that so many  friends had great things happen: comedians getting writing gigs, authors getting awards, musicians getting contracts, listers breaking records--seeing my friends be successful after they've worked so hard makes me feel great.


And well, even though Disapproving Rabbits is closing down doesn't mean we can't still have a cleansing bunny over here from time to time. I'm incredibly grateful for this dude. It's not every rabbit that will snooze on your laptop keyboard and I'm grateful to spend time with him.

Thank you all very, very much.


Calling Out Sexism

I've had a few people tell me that calling out sexism when it happens isn't that easy and that I don't know what I'm talking about. Let me show an example. At first I didn't want to bring this up because I think the man who wrote this on his blog thought, "Wow, Brooke and Sharon are getting a lot of attention and traffic, I bet if I write about it, I will get traffic to my website too!"

I decided I would just take a screenshot to avoid sending people to his site.  Please don't go over and tell him he's doing it wrong, he just wants the traffic. But I do feel I need to put my money where my mouth is:

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A guy (writing an article about how I don't get how hard women have it when comes to getting a respectable job in birding no less) being purposely misleading about what I do for a living and being dismissive of my years of hard work and experience doing it...THAT is sexist.

Private Digiscoping Tours

Digiscoping People have asked for it and I can only be in so many places at once, so here it goes. Would you like to have some one on one time with me for digiscoping practice? I'm now offering private digiscoping workshops. If you are in the Twin Cities metro area and would like to have a half day or full day with me to practice the technique with a smart phone or digital camera with your spotting scope, email me at sharon at birdchick dot com. If I am available we will visit local areas that are good for practicing the technique.

These are not tours specifically to get you life birds. We might get some new birds for you while you are with me, but if you are looking to add a bunch of flycatchers to your life list--I am not the droid you are looking for. If you would like to get sharper images of birds, get birds in better light, get closer to birds without stressing them out, learn some basic editing techniques, learn more about how exactly your camera phone works--I am the girl you are looking for.

Rates vary based on where you would like to digiscoping and how long you would like to spend time with me. If you are not in the Twin Cities and you'd like to hire me for a birding/nature festival or a class, I have rates for that too. I digiscope quite a bit and teach workshops all over the world.  Many of the images in my birding books are digiscoped by me.  Here are some examples:


How to use your iPhone headphones as a remote shutter release.

Digiscoped Grosbeak Rose-breasted grosbeak digiscoped with Nikon D40, DCA adapter and Swarovski ATM 80mm spotting scope.

Digiscoped with an iPhone

Common cranes digiscoped with an iPhone 4s and Swarovski ATM 80mm spotting scope.

Digiscoped Wood Duck

Wood duck digiscoped with Nikon V1, TLS APO adapter and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope.


Common yellowthroat digiscoped with iPhone 4s, PhoneSkope adapter and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope.

We can even play with video if you'd like. I'll even show you how to send your photos around on the various social media sites.

Email me at sharon at birdchick dot come for more details.







Furlough Family Visit


I took some of my own advice on being furloughed and headed out of Minnesota to visit with my family in Indiana. I joined my mom and some of my sisters for time at one of the family cabins in Brown County State Park. Above I am lip synching to the Trolololo song at one of the scenic overlooks...which none of them knew.

todays office

 It was actually a good plan, I could do some writing and put out freelance feelers out while they would do things I don't care for like going shopping in nearby Nashville. The deck of the family cabins have a beautiful view and lots of birds for inspiration.

Friendly titmouse

The birds are so used to guests putting out food for them that all you have to do is scatter some seeds and birds like the above tufted titmouse had no problem flying in to join my office. At one point I had a both a titmouse and a white-breasted nuthatch taking nuts from my hands. It was a bit nostalgic for me to be here. When I developed an interest in birds as a kid, this is where my mom used to take me as a kid as it was only an hour away from where we lived Indianapolis. She and my aunts would book a few days in the off season. It was intended as a sisters' getaway for them but since I spent most of my time outside, it wasn't too much of an imposition to bring me. instatowhee

It was so nostalgic that the few birds I digiscoped I did using Instagram like the above eastern towhee. I know I tend to rail against that social media platform for showing pictures as old and faded but since this was a sort of childhood revisit, it only seems appropriate.

instagramed pileated

The pileated woodpecker was the bird that got me interested in birding--I saw it in a Peterson Field Guide when I was 7 and thought how cool it is to know that there is such a thing as a crow sized woodpecker. Brown County State Park is where I first heard and saw one. It was a few years after I had been watching birds, but that was a bird really wanted to see and I'll never forget that pair that flew low in front of my aunt's van and landed low on a tree (just like the book suggested, they tended to forage low on the ground). But we had a family group hanging out regularly outside our cabin and they didn't mind us at all.

girls in the woods No matter where we went around the park I remembered first birds or birding lessons learned. I learned the call of the red-bellied woodpecker by following one "kerring" relentlessly outside of Abe Martin Lodge. When stopped by Strahl Lake in the above photo, I remembered the time I took laboring over the id of a Louisiana waterthrush working the edges of the creek that trickles from the dammed up lake. My mom even stopped me at one point and said, "Hey, Sharon, do you remember the time you were here and you found that Louisiana waterthrush?" I know my mom is aware of my interest in birds and she was there learning right along with me as a kid but I didn't think she remembered all of them and I was impressed that she remembered that particular bird. Perhaps because I stayed there so long staring down a brown bird and worked to try and separate it out from a northern waterthrush?

Birding Sisters

I know full well that hardcore birding is not something I'm going to do with my sisters. But usually they bring binoculars. Alas, mom left her's in the cabin when we went out and my sister Terri left her's at home. This was a spot that had a tree chock full of warblers and there was no easy way to get my scope on one so I passed around my Swarovskis (perhaps it was their intent all along--to use my binoculars). My sister Angela (in yellow) seemed to content to to simply wonder what the heck it is we are looking at.

Mom and the pawpaw

I loves me some wild edibles and mom was excited to find some paw paws still left in the park. If you have never read Julie Zickefoose and her love and harvesting of paw paws, you should really check it out. My mom got a little too excited about finding paw paws (I should never have shown her twerkers gone wild in Walmart). But we all got a chance to taste the delicious Indiana Banana.  My sisters were not as enthused by the texture as I was. But the big excitement for me was noticing people gathering some fruit under trees near the camp store. I went to investigate and low and behold the trees were laden with persimmons and I chowed down!

mom and shaz


I picked up as many as I could and ate them with every meal at the cabin.  They have the texture of plum with large seeds inside. The flesh is like a very mild orange flavored with cinnamon. There are different types of persimmons. Sometimes in stores you will find the larger, flatter Asian style for sale and when I was in Israel we had one of their varieties with every meal--it was not lost on me that in Israel they are called Sharon Fruit, but then again my name is Hebrew for a great and fertile plain.

American Persimmons


But these persimmons are the North American species (Diospyros virginiana), the ones I remembered tasting as a kid.  They were fantastic.  I couldn't get enough of them. On our way out of the park we stopped again so I could load up a container and take them back to Minnesota. I wanted to try them out on Non Birding Bill.

Persimmon Pancakes

He enjoyed the flavor as well and the next morning I chopped them up and combined them with pancake batter and a couple of dashes of cinnamon. I dare say they were the best pancakes I have ever made. Make sure when you try a persimmon or if someone is offering you one that it is a bit soft.  Hard unripe persimmons are a cruel joke in your mouth, they will suck the moisture out of it and they are very bitter. But ripe ones falling off the trees are fantastic.

Chicken of the Woods


I also found quite a bit of sulphur shelf aka chicken of the woods growing in the park. I suspect my freakout over all the wild edibles had my family concerned for my well being during the furlough. I ended up coming back to Minnesota with far more food than I took (I"m responsible for supplying honey and cheese on trips with my sister since I have easy access to things like Sartori Espresso Cheese, brun-uusto and a new morel jack that I found). But my sister Monica sent me home with two sacks of veggies from their garden (including green tomatoes--my all time favorite), Terri sent me home with 2 jars of jam made from her cherry and other berry trees in her yard and even my Aunt Lynne had cookies and fudge at the ready for me to eat on my way back to Minnesota.  I'll take it.

gossiping in the woods

Speaking of the furlough, I was having a conversation with my sister Terri about house sparrows. There were a few birds mating in the rafters of Abe Martin Lodge in Brown County State Park and we chatted about bird breeding habits. A woman walking by overheard us and asked about them. I started describing them to her and noticed she gave the look of, "Wow, yeah, I was just asking a question and hoping for a one sentence answer and not an encyclopedia answer."

I know that look well and know when to stop talking, "I'm sorry," I said, "I'm a furloughed National Park Ranger and I'm having a bit of interpretation withdrawal." We laughed, everyone said how sorry they were about the situation and then went about our day.

That's really all you can do with this stupid situation, laugh at the ridiculousness of it.



That and make sure some of those laughs are from having time well spent with family.

How To Survive A Furlough

Wow. I wrote this for the last shutdown in 2013. At the time I was only a part-time federal employee. Now I am a full-time federal employee. One thing that has changed from over four years ago is that I'm way more prepared for a shutdown this time. I still have some freelance projects but I also have an emergency fund just for this inevitability. I'm more than a bit nervous that this furlough is going to last as long or longer than the last one. I'm even more worried that I will get no back pay for this--basically being put out of work by people who will still get paid during a shutdown. I'm lucky in comparison with fellow federal employees I know who have massive student loans, mortgages, expensive medial bills for themselves or their children, are in the middle of a major roof or furnace repair or just living paycheck to paycheck. 

So, if you are new to a furlough, here's what a wrote last time and I hope you find it useful as you spin your wheels trying to fill your day without spending money. Here's hoping that by me posting this today it will mean the shutdown is over before the day is done. 

Immature rose-breasted grosbeak.

Immature rose-breasted grosbeak.

Sometimes, I just need a cleansing look at a bird.  That is what gets me through the day. I love this immature male rose-breasted grosbeak.  Barely a few months old and he eats at the feeder on his way to a marathon flight into Central America.  Good luck, dude.

With the federal government shutdown, many employees are out of work with an uncertain financial future.  For those who do not know, I work part-time as a National Park Ranger. The rest of my work is made up of various freelance projects--articles, speaking engagements, the occasional book, consulting, bird surveys, etc. My part-time position in the park and my freelance means that I will not qualify for unemployment during this time and a chunk of money that I count on is not there.  If the government decides to give out back pay to employees for the shutdown, anyone who used unemployment will have to pay it back. However, there is no guarantee and it looks unlikely that any furloughed employees will get back pay when this is all said and done.

Being without work with no clear sign of when money comes in is scary. As a freelancer, I know. What I find funny for me is that as much as I love and enjoy the park service, I saw it as a cushion for when my freelance times were lean and now it's as uncertain as the rest of my career. Ah, life!

Freelance definitely is a feast or famine sort of lifestyle. I always describe it as, "Freelance is great because you can set your own schedule, unfortunately so can the people who send you your checks."

I've developed some strategies in my seven years as a freelancer and perhaps some of these might be helpful to you if you are furloughed at this time. These are also guidelines for anyone who ever emails me to ask, "How can I do what you do?"

Down Time = Idea Time

What is something you have always wanted to try? What is some crazy career scheme, idea that you always wanted to do but "real work" always got in the way? Maybe it's watercolors? Maybe it's self publishing dinosaur erotica? Maybe it's learning how to cook Thai food? Maybe it's writing a Barry Manilow biography? Maybe it's creating your own YouTube Channel and producing easy 2 minute how to accounting videos? Start working on it. Now. You have the time, you may never have this chunk of time to flesh out the idea and it could lead to something. Or not. But the point is, you are working on something. You are improving your skills.

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Beekeeping was started with a friend during some down-time in my career.

Speaking of improving skills, is there some program you don't know how to use well and you've been faking it or relying on spouses, friends, interns to do them for you? Is an Excel spreadsheet baffling to you? Find free online tutorials, they are out there. Give yourself a new marketable skill.

All of the above activities can be done without any additional expense. You can find classes for watercolors and cooking online. You can set up a self publishing account on Lulu.com or a YouTube channel for free. You can film a whole movie with your average smartphone. Where there's the Internet, there's a way. And if you don't have access to the Internet, there's always the Library and books.

Stay Active

This was a hard one for me to learn but made a huge difference. Especially in lean times, you think you need to always be working, always find the next project, do something useful for your household. It's easy to fall into a pattern of zero activity and that does not help your mood. Get out of your house. Walk, bike, run, skip, just get out and get physical. You don't have to join a gym, but you may need good shoes for the type of activity though. Also for some of the work that I do like bird surveys, it's important that I maintain a certain level of fitness. Even if you are a writer, programmer, designer you need a level of fitness too.

I don't like joining a gym, I feel guilty about the expense. And I like the sort of exercise that is outdoors.  I have a bike and I use that for going to meetings as well as exercise. I love my bike riding time because it clears my head and I use to flesh out articles or come up with strategies.  I'm essentially doing the things to get work that I would do on the futon at home with my laptop, but doing it while burning some calories.

I don't like to bike ride at night and living in Minnesota, the night last 16 hours in winter. So I took up running in winter. Let me be clear, I hated running. Hated it. But many of my friends and family have taken up running and they claim to enjoy it, so I started a couch to 5k (there are several out there, even my husband took it up after I did, but he used a zombie game to do it). On days when you have no work, running gives you a sense of accomplishment. You got up, you got out of your home, you challenged yourself.


Couch to 5ks are a great way for someone who has been mostly couch surfing to get up to running.  And you will never be as bad as your first day doing that program.  When I started it, I couldn't run for 60 seconds. The first time I ran for 3 minutes straight and the timer on my app told me I could walk but I felt like I could run a little longer had me squealing for joy and jumping in the street.

So find an affordable activity plan--yoga exercises online. Even if it's just walking at a brisk pace outside in the rain. This is still contributing to your family. Maintaining your health so you are around longer to be there for your family is the best gift you can give. The Oatmeal sums it up best.

Find Free Fun Stuff

Find out what your town offers for free. We have the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The general exhibits are free.  You can go and sit in front of a Picasso...for free. During the furlough, some places like Huge Theater are offering free shows. Google around, get out, breathe. Get inspiration.

Don't Avoid Your Friends

ALL OF US HAVE HAD LEAN TIMES. All of us have been unemployed, have been in tough financial straights. If your friends offer to go out, don't avoid them. Be honest about not having money. They will either say, "Hey, I can spring at least one beer," or "Well, come to my house for some Battlestar Galactica board game fun" (it's an awesome game even if you haven't seen the show). You have most likely been there for friends, paid tabs, bought dinners, been the designated river, etc-- let them return the favor. And someday, you will be able to pay tabs again. Let your friends help you if they offer. They feel bad for you too, they want to help, let them do what they can.

I have wonderful friends, Joan of Dark and Dill Hero even offered me work in their coffee shop Strange Brew while on furlough. That's amazing to even offer considering all I know about coffee is how to drink it.

Get Comfortable Having Some Debt

You may have to use your credit cards. This can be frightening because of the interest rates or maybe you got yourself in a terrible debt situation in college with credit cards. These are not replacement paychecks, these are there for you to have some cash flow when you really need it. It's important to keep your debt limit in mind (see below). This is not for a night out drinking with friends to celebrate hump day, this is for when you have about $6000 worth of checks that are supposed to come in any day and you need to put gas in your car or buy some macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Pay it off as soon as the checks come in. Don't just schedule massages, buy five pairs of shoes or that expensive fleece you've been eyeing. Pay it off ASAP.

And when you have debt, you are more than just your debt. It can be a stressor and a motivational tool but it does not define you as a person.

Specific to freelancers (not necessarily the furloughed):

Set A Debt Limit

If you want to freelance full time, the first thing is to set a debt limit. How much are you willing to bear if you are going through a lean time? How much are you comfortable putting on your family? If you have a family, make sure your spouse/partner is ok with that amount. Stick to that, once you reach that debt point and there's no sustainable job coming in for a month, it's time to find a new job. What is that amount? $1000? $5000? $10,000? I don't know, that is up to you, your resources and whoever else has a stake in your household income.

I hope some of this helps.  I hope all of us get back to work soon.  I hope someone out there forms a "Reasonable Party" where politicians share ideas and concerns rather than shout hyperbole and focus more on political posturing in front of the cameras than an actual solution.

Update for 2018

If  you are like me and you are absolutely terrible as setting aside money for rainy days, two apps that have really helped me prepare are Stash and Acorns. They're not advertisers for my site, but you get a sign up bonus and I get a referral bonus if you use the links I provided. If you'd rather just go to their page rather than using my links, that's cool too. If you have your savings account strategy set, you don't need these. But if you're like me and prone to buying rounds for friends, drunk Amazon ordering or seeing an extra $50 in your account as permission to buy more yarn or fancy scotch rather than setting it aside...these will work great for you, they did for me.

You can set Acorns to automatically deduct money from your accounts or set it up round up to the nearest dollar when you make any purchase and it will set that money aside. I forget about the account and then I open it every couple of months and see either a safety net or some fun money I can use for travel down the road. Stash is similar but you can create a portfolio where you can choose to invest your money for better interest rates. I'm a big fan of the Roll With Buffet option. If anyone out there has been using similar apps and like them better, I'm definitely willing to listen. 

My to do list for each day of the shutdown is:

Rage Knit
Be Physically Active
Art Project
Avoid News Commentary (they don't get your job, or you as a person) 


I Love It When A Peregrine Comes Together

Yesterday I got an email from one of our local stations asking if I had time to talk about the changes the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources made to the state endangered species list. There were several animals and plants that had and adjustment but including birds. You can view the segment here. The reporter from KSTP wanted to know if we could meet someplace close by to see any of the species that had a change in status:

Northern Goshawk went from no status up to Special Concern Boreal Owl went from no status up to Special Concern Henslow's Sparrow went from Endangered down to Threatened Lark Sparrow went from none (not even records maintained by the DNR) up to Special Concern Trumpeter Swans went down from Threatened to Special Concern Peregrine Falcons went from down Threatened to Special Concern Bald Eagle went down form Special Concern to None Loggerhead Shrike went up from Threatened to Endangered Horned Grebe went up from Threatened to Endangered Purple Martin went up from none (not even records maintained by the DNR) to Special Concern Bell's Vireo went up from none (not even records maintained by the DNR) to Special Concern

I figured that evening news probably doesn't want to take the time to track down a Henslow's sparrow and that the birds I knew on the list in the Twin Cities easiest to find would either be a bald eagle, peregrine falcon or trumpeter swan. I told them that we should meet at Lock and Dam 1. Eagles fly over there regularly and there's a peregrine falcon nest box. The young falcons have fledged by now and are out hunting on their own, but sometimes they hang out there.  I knew actually seeing a peregrine was going to be a slim possibility but it was the best I could do on short notice.

We arrived and there were lots of turkey vultures but no peregrines. Just as we were setting up the camera, I heard a peregrine screeching. It got louder and the bird flew over us and perched on one of the walls along the river.

Juvy peregrine


It was one of the young of the year and had a kill. It looked like it was eating an American robin--and it stayed for the whole segment. The camera man lamented not having his longer lens but I had my iPhone, Swarovski scope and PhoneSkope adapter. I took a few shots and video through my scope and they used it in the segment.

Birds are so unpredictable, but it's so fun when things come together just right and you get to show people something super cool like a young peregrine falcon with its own kill. Though, I do worry that some tv stations get the impression of--"oh yeah, she can get us any bird at any time."

I thought the DNR changes were interesting. I'm thrilled to see birds like trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons and bald eagles being downgraded in their status--that's good, the populations are recovering, the program works. I also found it interesting that some birds like purple martins were added and that their population had never been monitored before. Here's a quote from the assessment:

"Purple Martins are readily observed by participants in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Breeding Bird Survey, and BBS data show a population decline of 5.4% per year in Minnesota during the period 2000-2010. This is one of the largest declines of any bird for which the state’s BBS data are statistically significant. Due to the documented decline in Purple Martins over the past three decades, as well as the continuing threats to the state’s population, its designation as a Species of Special Concern is needed and reasonable. "

So it's good to keep an eye on them now, especially as they are seemingly abundant, rather than when it's too late and they are too far gone.



The Lonely Dodo

This is a very sweet little cartoon narrated by Narrated by Stephen Fry and voiced by Alistair McGowan called The Lonely Dodo and is just under four minutes.  It's quite funny and I dare you not to say, "dodo" for the rest of the day. http://youtu.be/tvD4fRHstuU

To learn more, visit Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust's Lonely Dodo page.  While they are well established in Jersey (UK), they want to spread the reach of the Durrell globally--and I like how this reaches out to remind us that extinction is still possible for birds.