Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bird Activity

Three siblings have left the nest leaving just two behind. One of those two is clearly ready to fledge, but just can't seem to take the plunge. Papa continues to feed the remaining two, and both parents remain nearby. Today we saw several visits to the nest by an adolescent bird, probably a sibling of the two.

Papa says, "Breakfast, you two.  Here.  Don't be greedy, you have to share."

"Daddy!  Come back!"

Then the older brother shows up.

"Brother!  Are you coming back to the nest?"
"Nah.  It's too crowded, and it's more fun out here."

"C'mon!  Fly with me!  You'll like it!"

"I'm too big for this nest.  I'm leaving!"

"Do I do it like THIS?"

"Or like THIS?"
"PLEEEEEASE don't leave me"

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Backyard Drama

One nice thing about retirement is the ability to sit at the kitchen counter at lunch time staring out into the back yard.  Yesterday, thus occupied, I noticed a sparrow-sized bird of dull tan coloring checking out each small gap between the patio roof rafters.  She was obviously seeking a nesting site.

Every spring I’ve seen sparrows do the same, but they quickly move on and I’ve never had a bird nest in that area.  The “nesting surface” is only three inches wide, and there’s no way to secure a nest there.  The first strong gust of wind will blow it out onto the concrete patio below.

This gal was an optimist.  She selected her spot, commenced gathering building supplies, and soon had a small pile of grass, trigs and leaves up there.  The breeze promptly blew most of them down.  Undaunted, she continued bringing materials.  Her pile grew, but now she was spending more time weaving them together before venturing off for a new beak-full.  The wind was no longer stealing her collection.

 About that time I also noticed a similar sized bird with a bright red-orange head and throat.  He would perch in a small, potted bougainvillea about 15 feet away from the nesting female and just sing and sing.  I looked him up in our Birds of Texas Handbook and learned that he was a male House Finch.  I took a picture of him.  I had to do so through a window and it’s fuzzy, but this will give you an idea:



THEN I noticed that every time the nest-builder flew off to gather materials, he followed in the same direction.  And every time she returned, he was right back singing on his perch.  I got it!  They were mates, and he was letting her do the building while he just advised her on the selection of materials.  Typical male, right?  At least he was smart enough to get out of the way while she was doing the skilled work.

After about a dozen round trips together my suspicion was confirmed.  She was arranging her materials as the nest was taking shape, and a sparrow flew up to the adjacent spot as if to consider its own nest there.  (See picture below.)


 Well, Mr. Redhead was having none of that!  In a flash he flew up to that sparrow, fluttered and squawked aggressively until the sparrow flew to the ground.  Not satisfied with that, this alpha male followed the sparrow down and confronted him there!  The sparrow, clearly a pacifist, opted to depart the area.  Mr. Redhead strutted a bit, looked all around, flew up to the nesting spot to ensure all was okay, and then resumed his perch in the bougainvillea, singing loudly.

 Late in the afternoon she had just about completed her work.  Whenever I went outside with the camera both birds flew off, so here’s another shot of the nest, with bird in residence, taken through a screened window:


Hopefully she has the nest secured sufficiently that the wind will leave it alone until eggs are produced, hatched, and the little ones can fly.  I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

You don't see a baby moose every day

This came to me today in a forwarded email, so I can't verify its authenticity.  But hey, the pictures are sure cute!
A baby moose was in distress in a creek.  A man got him out of the creek; tried to find the mother and send him on his way, but eventually the moose stumbled back into the creek and was rescued again.
The baby moose followed the man home.  The man has only a small cabin so he took the moose to another neighbor, who took these photos. They took the moose the next day to a woman who looks after wild animals and she put it in a pen with a rescued fawn.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Joys of Medicare

This isn’t a rant, although it’s tempting.  No, this is just a few curiosities about the inner workings of the Medicare system as I attempt to interact with them.

I opted into Medicare part B later than most, after retiring in my 67th year.  But I had been covered by my employer’s plan until then so all was fine.  About 10 months later I was scheduled for a routine physical exam, including a couple of tests.  Medicare promptly declined payment for the exam and the tests.

I phoned the Medicare 800 number, fought through prompts and a lengthy hold before being connected to a very articulate and well-informed representative.  After review he informed me that the problem was all in the coding of the claim.  The doctor had submitted the claim as a “routine physical exam,” but under Medicare I was not eligible for that code until I had been in part B for 12 months.  Then the representative brightly informed me that if the claim were resubmitted as a “welcome to Medicare” visit, it would be covered.

Okay.  How about the tests?

The answer, also delivered brightly, was that those would also be covered if resubmitted under a different code.  I asked which code he would suggest.  He said he was precluded from making suggestions for fraud prevention reasons, but assured me that “any code would do, other than the one that was used.”

Okay.  Gee, that sounded like very effective fraud prevention, wouldn’t you agree?  (Sarcasm font needed.)

Then last Tuesday I went to a dermatologist for a routine screening.  He found a small mole on my back that he wanted to biopsy, telling me it was probably benign but he thought he detected a color change and “better safe than sorry.”  I readily agreed.  (Duh!  That’s why I go see the guy!)

The phone call came yesterday that I had a BCC (“basal cell carcinoma”).  These are fairly innocent little skin cancers that rarely spread (metastasize), and are almost always successfully treated by removal of all the affected tissue.  Especially after early detection.  (Note to reader:  Routine dermatological screenings are a GOOD IDEA!)  The doctor wanted to schedule me for a return appointment to remove surrounding tissue to ensure complete removal of all affected cells.  This is typically done in the office (outpatient) under local anesthesia by freezing or burning around the biopsied area.

I was offered May 14 for an appointment, and of course agreed.  In the interest of getting rid of the cancerous cells as quickly as possible, I mentioned that I would be available all of the week prior to the 14th if there were an opening.  I was told, “Oh, we can’t schedule you any earlier because Medicare requires a waiting period.”

Excuse me?  More fraud prevention?

As I wrote at the beginning, this is not a rant.  But if the diagnosis had been a melanoma or something more serious, it would be!

Maybe there’s a (good?) reason.  But I’m curious, and plan to do a little more research to see if I can find it, and the “logic” behind it.  I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

More violence

The mass stabbing attack at a Houston-area community college this morning just keeps rattling around in my head. 

I’ll confess that my first impulse was a desire to post a sarcastic comment about the need for outlawing “assault knives” and for background checks prior to the legal purchase of sharp objects.  But that would trivialize both the serious nature of the event and the thoughtful calls for action by people on BOTH SIDES of the gun-control arguments.

 I could already hear dismissive responses along the lines of, “Sure, 14 are injured following the stabbing attack, but 20 people DIED in Newtown!”

 My response to that line of thought is that it trivializes the violence done in the stabbings!  Think about it: how much violence is permissible?  I mean, if no one actually dies, does that make it okay?  Of course not.  If only one or two dies, is that better than 20?  “Better” becomes difficult to define.

 So is there a balance of any kind here? 

I think the vast majority would agree that an end to violent attacks against groups of relatively innocent and vulnerable people should stop.  And there’s little question that automatic-fire weapons with a very short delay to reload (large magazines) are a much more efficient method of causing maximum carnage than most others.  Well, excluding Weapons of Mass Destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological).  And truck bombs (Oklahoma City).  And car bombs and suicide bombs of all kinds.  And hijacking planeloads of people and crashing them into area where lots of people are.  And derailing high-speed passenger trains.  Or maybe stealing a tank truck full of flammable liquid (I’m getting really out there) and spraying it over a large crowd with ignition sources around.  And on, and on. 

But yes, guns are good at killing.  So . . . we can demonize the weapons and pass laws to make them more difficult to obtain.  But will that stop their use?  People will always find ways to circumvent the laws, if that’s their mindset.

 Is our culture of violence, from video games to Hollywood to literature, the problem?  If so, can it be changed?  Human history (millennia of it) tells me that rare is the culture that successfully avoids violent responses to certain acts, and that culture does not last very long.

 I’m left with the belief that we are not going to stop these acts of senseless violence, and there are limits to what we can do to protect citizens, whether children or not.  Although I believe we should (and will) do what we can with the resources we have, the bottom line is we’re going to have killings.

 I’d love to hear of a solution that we could all (literally) live with.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Great Alarm!

Our camper trailer is parked beside our driveway when we’re not using it (which is most of the time).  We’ve long been aware that when the trailer is NOT there we might as well put up a billboard announcing, “HEY, BURGLARS!  WE’RE OUT OF TOWN!”

 So when a home security salesperson stopped by in 2010 with a competitive offer for system installation and monitoring, we signed up.  And we’ve been happy with our decision for going on three years now.  By the way, we committed that if we were going to pay to HAVE this system, we were darn sure going to USE it.  So every time we leave the house (no exceptions), we arm the system.

 We learned that it’s easy to search public records for reports of break-ins or burglaries in our small town, and there had been very few in our neighborhood – but still we felt better with the system in place and in use.  Then last year (2012) our next-door neighbor came home one Tuesday mid-morning and surprised burglars in her home!  They ran, getting away with almost nothing.  Lucky for her!  But you can imagine how that made us feel.  About three months later the house directly across the street was ransacked on a Saturday afternoon!  We’re REALLY happy to have this system.

 Well, today we left the house at 12:56 pm to go play golf.  Yes, we armed the alarm.

 ASIDE:  I know.  It’s January.  And many of my Facebook and Blog friends live where it’s freezing and nasty right now.  I’m NOT trying to rub in the fact that it was 78 degrees here today with a nice south to southeast breeze blowing.  But, there it is.

 As we were walking off the first green at about 1:20, Carol’s cell phone rang.  Our alarm company was calling to tell us that there was an apparent entry through our laundry room door at 1:12 pm, and since they were unable to raise anyone at the house the authorities had been called and were on site at that time.  The police had reported no sign of an intruder or of anything having been displaced.  The caller suggested we might want to check with the police.


I called the police dispatcher (didn’t want to use 911 – this wasn’t an emergency after all) and was reassured that the officer had found the door unsecured, checked the house, locked the door and left.  If we wanted them to be present when we returned they would be glad to do so. 

 Our appetite for golf had waned, so we headed home.  Found nothing out of place.  Whew.

 We assume that the last one of us to use that door had just not pulled it shut hard enough to engage the latch.  And then a gust of that southeast breeze pushed it ajar. 

Or, perhaps… someone saw us leave together, waited about 15 minutes, tried the back door to see if they might get lucky, heard the alarm panel start squawking, and ran.  We’ll never know for sure. 

But like I said, we have a great alarm!  We’re happier than ever that we got it!

(Oh, and that neighbor who surprised the burglars in her home?  She has the same alarm system now in her home!)