Sunday, February 14, 2016

Counting the Back Yard

Winter Skies Over Elmira
Not Solid Ice
Eagle on Morning Commute
Crows Own the Road
Murder in a Pine
The Loram Grinding Dragon
Wandering Rail Equipment
Rare Sleeper Car for Workers
My local library hosted a class on how to prepare for the Audubon's Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) 2016. It was tempting to go. I'm starting to think of birds again and anticipate the return of migrators with March Madness.

However, my backyard is a dubious place for migrators at the moment. Without open water I don't see much activity. Blue Heron did make a surprise November appearance while there was yet water showing on Elmira Pond. In fact, the pond never really froze solid. It sits like a giant vanilla slurpy in the back pasture. Anything more solid than a bird would punch through, but alas, the birds are too light and feathered to penetrate water.

Tiny blurs of birds flit from the wood pile on my porch to the pines in the yard. How can I possibly count those rascals? They defy my slow-hand photography and refuse to wait for binocular adjustments. Thus, they don't count.

Nearly every day this gray winter, the eagle has flown low in search of road jerky along state highway 95. I see him fly up, and later fly down like some overhead commuter. But during the official count do you think he's shown up? Nope. Calling in on his vacation days no doubt.

Same with the local murder. Crows wait on no one, not even drivers along the road. One, two, then the whole gang shows up, flocking to some opportunistic source of feed. They continue to ignore the now fading ornaments of the Crow Tree. Evidently they got the eagle's message to lie low this weekend. Not a single crow; no murder in Elmira this weekend.

Not a flicker or a chickadee to be seen. Well, what a bummer of a count this is.

Not all was a loss for watching. I heard the squelching of a dragon arrive in the dark of night and knew right away it was the big lumbering train machine I had once seen spewing fire like a steampunk demon. This time, I carefully recorded its habits. It sat for three days on the rails of Elmira. Day or night, passing trains blasted their horn; an indication of workers present.

Huge generators and lights ran continually. It became my lullaby two nights in a row. And I successfully identified the creature -- it is a Loram's Production Rail Grinder. These working trains grind the rails to get a longer life out of the steel. It's a story-worthy process and one I plan to pursue. Like my story about the Italians of Elmira featured in Go Idaho.

Today while watching for silent February birds in my back yard, another train of curiosity trundled down the newly polished Elmira rails. It was an engine, a container and a sleeper car. Back when the unions organized for train transportation, sleeper cars were won by workers. They became moving camps of men who worked the rails in Idaho.

Now they are as rare as, well, as birds in my back yard.


  1. Sorry the birds gave you a 'miss' this weekend, Charlie. Love your description of the 'rare' rail grinder, though. :)

    1. It definitely grabbed my attention! How to explain to the workers though my notepad, camera and binoculars? :-)

  2. That is some grinding dragon! What a sight that must have been spewing fire! I hope your migration begins soon Charli, so typical though that your feathered friends disappear for the naughty children! We have similar counts here to track migration patterns and numbers of certain flocks. I enjoyed your article in Go Idaho,especially the Capone link. Fascinating! Such beautiful views, I wonder: are there any wolves in those woods beyond the open field? My imagination goes crazy looking at your wonderful photos :-)