Monthly Archives: April 2017

Picture of the Moment—What happened to my nest?

Picture of the Moment

I have been trying to get a good picture of a cliff swallow ever since 1973 when I was a freshman at Texas A&M University. I had gone to the football game in Austin and discovered all the swallows that live under the bridges near downtown. They fly too fast, are small, and take off if you get too close to them. Now, with a 600mm lens, I can get close without getting close.

I got the picture below under a bridge on Old Highway 80. Sources indicate that although the highway was built in the 1910s and widened in the 1930s, the bridge was built in 1973. It carries traffic over the La Posta Creek, which actually had water in it when I was there yesterday.

People don’t seem to like cliff swallows since they like to build their nests on manmade structures, like bridges and under the eaves of buildings. Swallows, however, do a great job of keeping various swarming insects under control since they like to eat flies, bees, wasp, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other bugs.

All swallows are protected by state and federal regulations under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 as migratory insectivorous birds, so it is illegal to take, possess, transport, sell, or purchase them or their feathers, nests, or eggs, without a permit.

Swallows like to use the same nest year after year. The picture below seems to indicate that someone, probably the California Department of Transportation, has been by since last year’s nesting season to destroy all the nests. So these poor birds, returning now from their winter migration to Mexico, Central America, and South America, are finding that their nests have been destroyed. They probably are under a lot of stress.

The one below obviously found its old nest but it’s nothing like the poor bird left it late last year. Lot of work to do.

American Cliff Swallow

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat in absentia.Where's that damn cat?

…and we have #4

Picture of the Moment

When I was young and living in Kingsville TX, if I wanted to see dragonflies all I had to do was set out a bucket of water.

Multiple dragonflies within minutes.

Kind of like setting out a box if you want to see a cat.

In the 24 years I have been in San Diego, I have seen four dragonflies, with the fourth coming two days ago at a pond at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Since I was testing a Tamron 150-600 mm lens, my rental lens, I was able to get several shots of this beauty. Of the other three dragonflies, I only have a picture of one, and it’s not a great picture because you just can’t get close to these things without them taking off.

Here are three of the best from the Safari Park:

Orange dragonfly at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Orange dragonfly at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Orange dragonfly at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Let’s just say I had a margarita to celebrate!

How I Did It

I’m trying to decide on a new lens for my camera, either a Sigma 150-600 mm or a Tamron 150-600 mm.

Turns out that we have a lens rental place here in San Diego so I rented the Tamron yesterday.

Tamron 150-600 mm lens

San Diego Zoo Safari ParkGet to keep it for 7 days for just $60. Today it made a trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

So what does a 150-600 mm lens allow me to do that I can’t do with my 28-300 mm lens?

Notice that the bigger number on the new lens is twice as big as the bigger number on the old lens, 600 to 300. That basically allows me to get twice as close to something without moving my feet. If there’s a fence between me and my subject, moving myself to the other side of the fence without actually going to the other side of the fence can give me the opportunity to take beautiful pictures. In some cases, like if I’m at the zoo where some of the wildlife is in fenced enclosures, getting inside the enclosure without getting subsequently mauled to death lets me come home with a picture like this:

Southern bald eagle at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

There are two southern bald eagles in the fenced enclosure, and the fencing is the mesh stuff with teeny tiny really really small holes, not chain-link with big holes. The smaller the fencing holes, the more difficult it is to get on the other side of it. My 28-300 mm lens doesn’t allow me to get into the enclosure with these eagles, so when I first got it seven years ago, I cheated by going where one is not supposed to go (and that’s all I’m going to say!) to get this picture:

Southern bald eagle at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

In the first picture, the long focal length did a much better job of also blurring the background fence which you can make out in the second picture. And if you look very, very closely at the second picture, you can even see fence shadows on the eagle itself. Look at the two shoulders. I don’t have that problem in the first picture.

So, what’s my initial assessment of the Tamron 150-600 mm lens? Based just on the eagle picture, excellent. Based on that and the other 610 pictures I took this morning: Well, let’s just say that I drank a margarita to celebrate!

Empty margarita glass at On The Border

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Out & About—The Cajon Pass by freight train

Out & About

Even before California was admitted to the United States on September 9, 1850, as the thirty-first state, there was great interest in it. After gold was discovered in 1848, starting the California Gold Rush, the population exploded, mostly “immigrants” from the United States. Travel between California and the United States, however, was arduous, time-consuming, and dangerous.

Not until the Transcontinental Railroad was completed from San Francisco to Omaha did travel become reasonably less time-consuming and much less dangerous. The railroads have always been a significant part of the State of California, and although the Eastern railroads are older, their history is no more significant than the California railroads.

Once the Transcontinental Railroad was completed to San Francisco, northern California, people began looking for a way to build a transcontinental railroad into southern California. The competition for the western terminus was between San Diego and Los Angeles. For a while it looked like it would be San Diego when the California Southern Railroad (a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway) built through the Cajon Pass in the early 1880s to connect Barstow and San Diego. Today, however, the Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway use the pass to reach Los Angeles. San Diego is a secondary afterthought.

The interesting Mojave Desert mountain scenery, as well as the many long trains that transit Cajon Pass, make for a fun day of train watching. The video below is a BNSF container train heading east, so the containers mostly likely are fully loaded with cargo from ships docking at the Port of Los Angeles. There are 117 railcars carrying 234 containers. Quite a load up a 2.2 – 3 percent grade. There are two front engines pulling and two rear engines pushing. All four engines have 4,400 horsepower each, for a total of 17,600 horsepower getting these 117 railcars over the Cajon Summit.

With my new high-flying drone and a new-as-of-today 150-600mm lens for my Canon 760D camera, I have plans to return to Cajon Pass for some great pictures and videos, both from the ground and from the sky, to satisfy my thirst for trains in unique places.

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Music on Mondays (4-24-17)—Sinfonietta La Jolla

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

My mother played piano and organ, and she started her children on piano when we were age 2. Not all of us took to it. I did.

When we entered first grade, we were required to choose a second instrument. First, though, we had to do a research paper on the instrument or someone who composed music for that instrument. I chose the violin and did my research paper on Peter Tchaikovsky.

Although I also started voice lessons at the age of 10, I think violin was my true passion, and it shows in my music history. Although with making the South Texas Symphony from Grades 6-12, and the Texas Youth Symphony in Grades 9-12, I played with the Texas A&I University Symphony, the Corpus Christi Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Texas A&M University Symphony, and the Brazos Valley Symphony. I finally gave up the violin when I moved to San Diego in 1993 because I wanted to be a Pacific Ocean beach bum, and violins don’t hold up well in the sand, water, and salt air.

I still have a passion for classical music, though, and my husband is a pianist with a Bachelor and Master in Piano Performance from University of Redlands. He plays in a chamber music trio, and he accompanies voice and music students throughout the San Diego area. So I’m pretty lucky.

Due to recent political happenings in the United States, my interest in Nazis has been revitalized, and that connected me back to orchestral music via Czechoslovakan-born composer Bohuslav Martinů.

Martinů was born in 1890 and fled Europe in 1941 to escape the Nazis. He was a very prolific composer, having composed his first piece, a string quartet (Tři Jezdci, H. 1, also known as Three Riders/Three Horsemen), in 1902.

Life in the United States initially was difficult, as it was for many other artist émigrés in similar circumstances—lack of English, lack of funds, and lack of opportunities to use their talents. The music community in the United States encouraged him and provided him with teaching and composing opportunities whenever possible.

In 1950, one of those composing opportunities was presented to him by the Orchestra of the Musical Arts Society of La Jolla. (La Jolla is a neighborhood of San Diego about 13 miles north of downtown.) The Orchestra had been founded in 1942 by Dr. Nikolai Sokoloff, a Russian-American conductor and violinist born in Kiev in 1886.

Sokoloff studied music at Yale; was musical director of the San Francisco People’s Philharmonic Orchestra in 1916-17, where he included women in the orchestra and paid them the same as men; was the founding conductor and music director of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1918 where he remained until 1932; directed the Federal Music Project from 1935 to 1938, a New Deal program employing musicians to perform and educate the public about music; and, from 1938 to 1941, directed the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

While directing the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, he gave a violin to a nine-year-old violin prodigy named Yehudi Menuhin, a name violinists throughout the world recognize.

Martinů composed Sinfonietta La Jolla, a three-movement work for chamber orchestra. It had its premiere at La jolla High School auditorium on August 13, 1950 with Dr. Sokoloff conducting the Orchestra of the Musical Arts Society of La Jolla. The music critic for the San Diego Union, Constance Herreshoff, called it “a triumph for both orchestra and conductor.”

Here it is being performed by the Prague Chamber Orchestra in 2006 in Villach, Austria:

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

“The Silent Corner” by Dean Koontz forgot to end


The Silent Corner by Dean KoontzI finished reading my free, pre-published proof of Dean Koontz’s new book, The Silent Corner, to be released on June 6.

I thoroughly enjoyed it….

Until I got to the end.

It simply ended.

It was like Koontz said, “You know. This book is already over 400 pages. I think I’ll just quit. Go do something else.”

The last two chapters, which were a page each, seemed completely disconnected from the book itself and left me wondering what the hell just happened.

After the book ends, Koontz includes 15 pages from his next book, The Whispering Room. Sources indicate that The Silent Corner is the first “Jane Hawk” novel and that The Whispering Room is the second “Jane Hawk” novel. I don’t usually read teasers from future books because I know that I can’t read the book, so what’s the purpose? Because I was so perplexed about how The Silent Corner ended, I thought that maybe, just maybe,  there was something in the 15-page teaser that actually applied to The Silent Corner rather than The Whispering Room. I read about five pages and decided that there wasn’t. Nothing to indicate that The Whispering Room is the sequel to The Silent Corner and will answer all my questions. The only way I even know that it’s the second Jane Hawk novel is because Wikipedia told me so, and said that it’s due to be released in 2018.

Maybe I just missed something.

Or maybe the pre-published proof actually was missing a few pages or chapters.

I don’t know what to do.

Maybe go fly my drone and take sky pictures….

Four seasons

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

I’m putting you on Facebook!

Picture of the Moment

A couple of days ago I found the Bennington Memorial Oak Grove. The place was full of squirrels. Well, duh. Oaks. Acorns. Squirrels.

One squirrel sat there and stared at me for the longest time as I was taking pictures of other things. Finally, I focused the camera on the little one, said out loud, “I’m putting you on Facebook!” and pushed the shutter button.

Here’s the result:

Squirrel butt

Obviously the little one did not want to be on Facebook. Probably knew that Twitler has sold his privacy rights to big corporations and didn’t want them to know where his acorns are stashed….

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

It comes with a custom registration plate

Picture of the Moment

This past Wednesday was opening night for the 2017 Cajon Classic Cruise.

It’s where people like me wander around downtown El Cajon looking at classic cars from our youth. Some of the cars are for sale, like this 1931 whatever-it-is:

Cajon Classic Cruise, El Cajon CA

It was going for a mere $52,000.


Not sure about that.

It does have a custom California license plate which told me everything I needed to know:

RUS-T31, Cajon Classic Cruise, El Cajon CA

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat