Archive | June, 2009

Ruby Tuesday – Camping Dawg

30 Jun


Ruby gets a light in her eyes when we are camping.  She is at once calm and alert.  She is watchful and patient and more aware of her surroundings — particularly if they include rodents or the like.


She leaps and climbs and runs with grace and agility not used in her run-of-the-mill daily life.


Small she may be but she is a hunter, too.  Thankfully, the wild animals have to contend with better hunters than she is.  They are ready for coyotes and foxes and hawks and eagles and a small dog doesn’t really stand a chance, no matter how determined she is.


When you are at altitude, it is important to get enough to drink.  We had a cooler full of water with us at all times and made sure that Ruby got her fair share as well.

When we camp, Ruby sleeps curled up next to me under the covers. She gets cold at night and she likes to snuggle in and borrow my warmth.  Even in June at 7,600 feet of elevation, nights are chilly.  46F was common.  So, we all were happy for a little extra warmth.


We always knew we wanted to camp with a dog along with us.  We just didn’t know that our camping dog would be a 12 pound Rat Terrier with attitude!


Fox Sparrow!

28 Jun

Fox Sparrow

This brazen little sparrow plunked down on that fence post not 4 feet away from Gage and I as we walked around the General Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park.  It immediately started singing, heedless of the dozens of people around us.   I snapped pictures as quickly as I could.  I tried to catch video as he kept on singing his fool head off but, of course, as I started the video, he flew off.  I love the look on his face in the shot above.  What a funny, little show-off.

For more show-offy birds, visit Bird Photography Weekly!


28 Jun


Campfires are an elemental experience.  The sound of them.   Watching the flames dance and twist.  Adding fuel to the fire.  All these things reach our spirits.  Fires in a fireplace can give a bit of that comfort to our soul but there is something about gathering around a campfire with family and friends under a starry sky for stories and conversation, warmth, and, of course, food.  (More on that in a bit!)


Campfires are also a safety issue.  When you camp in campgrounds, they generally provide a safe place for your fire.  When you camp in the National Forests, there are often no safe metal fire rings, just stone ones.  Much more satisfying.  Our campsite had a beautiful fire ring.  When camping where we were, you are required to get a fire permit before you use a campfire, camp stove, or even a propane lantern outside.  Why?  In order to reduce the risk of wildfires from careless campers, of course!  We anticipated having to stop at the Ranger’s office and get a permit but I found that I could take a test online and get my permit online.  Yay.

As part of the process, I had to learn how to safely manage a campfire.  We were really careful about following the rules.  Heck . . . I had to take a test!  We made sure our campfire was set up safely.  We followed the rules about how to put out a fire, too.  We kept a bucket of water near the fire and used the Drown-Stir-Feel method to put our fire out safely.

Gage’s job was to get a bucket of water everyday so that we could have our fire that night.  He braved mosquitos down by the creek to get the water. In the National Forests, you are also allowed to collect downed wood for your fires.   Gage, of course, had to get the biggest pieces he could find and haul them back with the water.


This picture looks like one of the ads from the Go RVing association.  Funny that they haven’t called to ask us to become spokesmodels for their industry!  🙂 I think they are missing a good bet!


Campfires.  Family.  And, of course, marshmellows.  Does it get any better than this?

Marshmellow ! by Tineeh

Marshmellow ! by Tineeh

White-headed Woodpeckers – Inspirational Life Birds!

27 Jun


White-headed woodpecker swoops
Clings to corneous bark of stump
Disappears before my eyes

White-headed Woodpecker nest

When Amy of WildBirdontheFly asked for Twittered bird-related poems that included the word “corneous” I thought of the bark of this tree and the White-headed Woodpeckers I saw there.  I’m thrilled that my poem won her contest and I’ll be getting a new book: The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds.  Very cool!  Thanks so much, Amy!  And, if you use Twitter and aren’t subscribing to Amy’s tweets, why not?  More to the point, if you love birds and you aren’t subscribing to WildBird magazine, why not?

White-headed Woodpecker

I promised, upon winning, to share the story behind the poem.  When we arrived at our campsite in Sequoia National Forest, we got the motorhome settled and then did a little exploring around the site.  Directly behind our motorhome was a small pine tree and behind that was a stump of a much larger tree.  As I watched, a woodpecker swooped in and landed.  It hopped up and down and then around the tree out of my site.  I sent my son around the other side so he could see it.  And, there was nothing there.  I’d been watching the whole time and never saw it leave.  Shrugging, I finished setting up the camp.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that the only answer was that it went into a hole in the stump.  A nest.

So, later that day, I checked it out and it was there.  I watched for quite a while and the mother and father flew in and out regularly, showing no concern about our being nearby.  I got a decent picture and pulled out my Sibley Guide.  They are White-headed Woodpeckers.


White-headed Woodpeckers tend their young together.  They are very attentive to each other during the incubation (according to All About Birds).  I like that I captured the two of them sharing a moment.

White-headed Woodpecker

When I finally got a chance to be alone, I set up my tripod and took some better shots.  I love the combination of a tripod and rapid shot mode.I’d never seen a White-headed Woodpecker before so my thrill was doubled.  A lifer!  And catching one of them in-flight is almost as thrilling as seeing them to begin with — look at that action!

White-headed Woodpecker

After I took the pictures, I did sneak up to the nest and take a quick video of the babies.  I could hear them chirping in there.  I didn’t want to worry them or distress the parents so Ireally did make it quick but I wanted to share it.

The first sound you hear is not a bird.  It’s a marmot.  I’ll share more about the marmots in a future post.    Enjoy!

All content written by Liza Lee Miller unless otherwise noted.
© 2009, Liza Lee Miller. Creative Commons License

High Drama in the High Sierra

26 Jun

Skies over Kings Canyon

Summer skies at altitude
Clouds whisper in and build the drama
Will it storm or dissipate

All content written by Liza Lee Miller unless otherwise noted.
© 2009, Liza Lee Miller. Creative Commons License

For more dramatic skies, visit Skywatch Friday®!

Bird List for Sequoia Trip

25 Jun

White-headed Woodpecker nest

White-headed Woodpecker (male) tending nest not feet from our motorhome.

I saw all these amazing birds on my trip.  7 life birds!  Even seeing a Robin was exciting though because they weren’t our neighborhood tame Robins.  They were wild mountain robins who live at 7000 ft elevation and would think they’d have died and gone to heaven if they saw a golf course.  (Okay, the mallard wasn’t all that wild.  She was a female who lived at a youth camp and she was very tame!)  I’ll do invidiual posts on some of the life birds in the next few days.  I saw some amazing birds!

  • American Robin – Turdus migratorius
  • Steller’s Jay – Cyanocitta stelleri
  • Common Raven – Corvus corax
  • Mallard – Anas platyrhynchos
  • Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus
  • White-headed Woodpecker – Picoides albolarvatus (Life)
  • Cliff Swallow – Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  • Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina (Life)
  • Cassin’s Finch – Carpodacus cassinii
  • Brown Creeper – Certhia americana
  • Brewer’s Blackbird – Euphagus cyanocephalus
  • American Dipper – Cinclus mexicanus (Life)
  • Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis
  • Fox Sparrow – Passerella iliaca
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – Sitta carolinensis
  • Rufous Hummingbird – Selasphorus rufus
  • Purple Finch – Carpodacus purpureus
  • Oak Titmouse – Baeolophus inornatus
  • Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus (Life)
  • Mountain Chickadee – Poecile gambeli
  • Mountain Bluebird – Sialia currucoides
  • Western Tanager – Piranga ludoviciana
  • Canyon Wren – Catherpes mexicanus (Life)
  • American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
  • Rock Wren – Salpinctes obsoletus (Life)
  • Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
  • Clark’s Nutcracker – Nucifraga columbiana (Life)
  • Lesser Goldfinch – Carduelis psaltria

Brown Creeper

First bird I saw at our campsite – very cooperative Brown Creeper!

Fox Sparrow

This Fox Sparrow plunked itself down and started singing up a storm.  We were in a really busy part of Kings Canyon National Park (at the General Grant Grove) — I was so surprised.  I tried to get it singing on video but as soon as I started the video, it flew away!

Black bird in Kings River

These blackbirds were hawking bugs over the water of the Kings River.  Really amazing to see.


Does it surprise you that there were Ravens nesting 20 yards from our campsite?  I’d love to show you pictures of their nest but it was well-hidden and when they saw me near their tree, they wouldn’t approach the nest.  Amazing the amount of noise the nestlings made though as Mama and Daddy left and arrived.

Rofous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird high atop a Pine tree.  It was about 6am and 43F or so.  She buzzed me and hovered near me (hoping my pink shirt was a HUGE flower, no doubt) and then went to the tippy-top of the tree to chirp at me.

Mountain Chickadee

Terrible picture of a Mountain Chickadee.  They are so different from my Chestnut-backed Chickadees.  Even their call was different . . . .clearly a chickadee but to my ear, off somehow.  They are so striking with their sharp black and white contrasting heads and sleek grey wings.

Western Tanager, male

Glorious color!  Western Tanager, male.

Western Tanager, female

Muted color!  Western Tanager, female

Clark's Nutcracker

Clark’s Nutcracker.  A member of the Jay/Crow/Raven family.  The Tanager couple above chased him away everytime they saw him.  Evidently, Clark’s Nutcrackers are not to be trusted!  🙂

Don’t forget to visit the latest I and the Bird!  Hosted by Birdfreak, it’s not to be missed (even if you aren’t a baseball fan!)  I’m probably not the only person who watches birds at a baseball game!  🙂


24 Jun

When Greg and I were undergraduates, we went on our first camping trip together.  We tent-camped around the eastern Sierra mountains and Death Valley.  The most memorable thing about that trip was that Greg forgot to pack the tent and had to take my step-dad (a backpacker) aside when we stopped at their house and ask to borrow his tent.  It was a backpacking tent – a tiny bright orange puptent.  Oh well, we were young and in love and who needs room anyway!  But, it set a tone for us.

We bought our first RV when we were in graduate school.  We envisioned a life of taking our children and our dog camping.  Setting up in one place for a week and spending time exploring all there is to know about that one area.  Taking long rambling treks across various states and returning after a month to our home.

We did camp a fair amount in our 5th Wheel trailer with our 4×4 pickup truck.  We thought that would be the way to go for us.  And, it was when it was just us.  However, the reality of driving for 8 hours across the state (slowly because you are towing a trailer) with two small children and a labrador directly behind you wasn’t what we’d really hoped for.  Changes had to be made.

And they were, slowly, over time.  First of all, our children got bigger.  That seemed to happen without any planning on our part.  Secondly, we, again, slowly, over time, replaced the labradors with Ruby the Rat Terrier.  We never could have envisioned that small, compact, fiesty, and loving would turn out to be the best camping dog ever.  And, we replaced the truck and 5th wheel with our vintage motorhome and a small SUV to tow behind it.

And, we have struck camping gold.  This combination works.  Traveling 8 hours across the state to end up in our destination is part of the fun now.  The kids love camping in the motorhome and the flexibility of lounging on the back bed area with their books, DSes, or simply staring out the window or coming up and sitting in the front seat with us and watching the world go by and talking about what we see, big plans, concerns from school, or what that bird was that just flew overhead.  The dog is a camper extraordinaire.  She loves the motorhome, loves traveling, sticks around even if the door is left open, comes when called even while on the trail of some horrid little rodent (most of the time) and generally is worth her weight in gold (12 lbs, by the way).  And, for us, each trip has a veneer of goals achieved.  we can look back at those young campers with big dreams and know that we are living their dreams.  Oh sure, we are older, fatter, and more staid than we envisioned being but we are out camping with our kids and our dog and loving every minute of it.

Here is where we camping in Sequoia National Forest.  This is the site that we hoped against hope we would get.

Our site at Sequoia National Forest

Here is the view (part of it) that we enjoyed while we were camping there.


You’d like to think that I played with the color and made it more beautiful than it is.  And, I did boost the color a little in iPhoto.  But, it doesn’t come close to capturing the beauty of this area.  Some areas are larger than life and the Sierra Nevada mountains are among them.

We camped at 7,600 feet.  It was so beautiful.  The air is thin and the altitude gets to you.  The sun is so intense at that altitude.  I had headaches and felt queasy for the first few days.  We could see mountains that were 11,000+ feet from our site (only on clear days).  We experienced all the wonders of the Sierra summer weather from 40F nights to 80F days and sun that burned in less than an hour to pouring, bone-numbing rain.  We celebrated Father’s Day which seemed so appropriate since Greg is the reason we are campers and his father was the one who gave him the love of camping.  We explored and visited new sites and old, familiar sites.  We challenged our fears and sometimes conquered them and sometimes surrendered to them.  We spent time together and alone.  We read, played games, and talked.  We watched Star Trek:  The Next Generation episodes on our itty-bitty DVD player all curled up in bed together.  We looked at birds and animals in new ways. We fulfilled that dream that Greg and I had many years ago when we camped together in a little orange pup tent by the side of a road in Nevada.

And, we’re glad to be home.

Why I love Chickadees

22 Jun

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

They will let you get close enough to take shots like this.

For more closeups of cooperative birds, Bird Photography Weekly.

Facebook Meme

16 Jun

Crazy Facebook Meme  – Thanks Miz S for the idea. As Miz S says, the rules say you must answer yes or no but rules are for sissies!  🙂

Kissed any one of your Facebook friends? Yes.   Going with “kiss” meaning more than a social air kiss  and more of a “hookin’ up” type kiss.  My husband and one other . . .

Been arrested? Nope.

Kissed someone you didn’t like? I’ve only kissed people I liked at the time — later I may have changed my mind!

Slept in until 5 PM? Only when ill.

Fallen asleep at work/school? Not QUITE . . . I’ve come close.

Held a snake? Yes! I love snakes!

Ran a red light?  No.  But, stop signs, yes.

Been suspended from school? No.

Experienced love at first sight? No. But, I knew WAY too early that I would be having Greg’s kids.

Totaled your car in an accident? No! But my husband has!

Been fired from a job? Fired, no.  But, I’ve been laid off more than once.

Fired somebody? Nope.

Sang karaoke? Nope.

Pointed a gun at someone? Nope.  Only targets.

Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t? Yes. Too many times.

Laughed until something you were drinking came out your nose? Yes.

Caught a snowflake on your tongue? Yes.

Kissed in the rain? Definitely.  And, in the snow and in a pool and the ocean and . . .

Had a close brush with death (your own)? Not that I know of.

Seen someone die? Just animals.

Sang in the shower? Yes. It would be more surprising if I didn’t sing in the shower.

Smoked a cigarette? Yes.

Sat on a rooftop? Yes.

Taken pictures of yourself naked? Nope. Never.  Not even in the age of digital.

Smuggled something into another country? Don’t think so.

Been pushed into a pool with all your clothes? Sure.

Broken a bone? Yes.  Foot in 6th grade.  Thumb in 8th grade.  Left hand in 12th Grade.  Both big toes 3 years ago.

Sleepwalked? No.

Walked a moonlit beach? Yes, I’ve even slept on a moonlit beach.

Rode a motorcycle? Yes.

Dumped someone? Yes.  (Not the other person I kissed who is mentioned above!  🙂 )

Forgotten your anniversary? This very year.  Greg remembered and I wondered why there was a bouquet of flowers on my table.  Sigh.

Lied to avoid a ticket? No.  I always tell the truth and it never works.

Ridden on a helicopter? No. My life would have to be in danger!

Shaved your head? No.

Blacked out from drinking? Yes.

Played a prank on someone? Yes.

Hit a home run? Yea.  Right.  That’s a good one.

Felt like killing someone? As Miz S said, only in a hyperbolic sense!

Cross-dressed? No.

Been falling-down drunk? Yes.

Made your girlfriend/boyfriend cry? No.

Eaten snake?  Yes.  And, alligator.

Marched/Protested? No.

Had Mexican jumping beans for pets? As pets?  No but I did have them when I was kids.

Puked on amusement ride? No.  But, I’m pretty careful about which rides I go on.

Seriously & intentionally boycotted something? Not really.

Been in a band? I’ve sang on two albums — both my husband’s bands.

Knitted? Yes, but only easy stuff like scarves.

Been on TV? I don’t think so.

Shot a gun? Yes. Target practice. And, I was good at it!  🙂

Skinny-dipped? Oh puhlease . . . I’ve skinny dippped on the French Rivera.

Gave someone stitches? No.

Had stitches yourself (not from surgery)? Yes. Got a cut from sheet metal in 1998.

Eaten a whole habanero pepper?  Yup.

Ridden a surfboard? No.

Drank straight from a liquor bottle? Sure.  Dang, it was probably Southern Comfort (shudder!)

Had surgery? Yes. 2 children via c-section and all 4 wisdom teeth out

Streaked?  No, but I’ve watched friends do it.  Ahem.

Taken by ambulance to hospital? Thankfully, no.

Tripped on mushrooms?  Nope but I know those who have.

Passed out when not drinking?  Yup.  Still not sure what caused it.  Scary.

Peed on a bush? No, behind bushes but not on one.

Donated Blood? Many times.

Grabbed electric fence? No.   I’m smart and know that electricity can hurt.  I don’t need to check it out myself.

Eaten alligator meat? See above.  And, yes, it tasted like chicken.  🙂

Eaten cheesecake? Of course.

Eaten your kids’ Halloween candy? Of course.

Killed an animal when not hunting? Yea, hit a bird the other day in my car.  😦

Peed your pants in public? Nope.

Snuck into a movie without paying? Probably in high school.

Written graffiti? Yes.

Still love someone you shouldn’t? Nope.  I picked wisely, very wisely.

Sleep on a certain side of the bed?  Yes.

We’re going here!

14 Jun


We had so much fun at Sequoia National Park last year that we thought we’d go back again this year.   We are camping in the National Forest this time.  They offer what is called dispersed camping — they designate areas where camping is fine, you don’t have to camp in specific campsites. You have to get a permit for campfires.  And, you have to be aware that it’s bear country.  And, you won’t have a ranger to come to your rescue if you mishandle your food and end up with a bear in your campsite. We’ll be camping in this area.

We are going to go horseback riding with the Horse Corral Pack Station.

Horse back riding in Sequoia National Forest

We are going to drive around that area and see things like the Buck Rock Lookout Station.

Buck Rock Lookout

And, of course, we’ll see massive Giant Sequoia trees.

Ruth & Gage at base of Giant Sequoia

It’s going to be quite an adventure!