Troi the Dauntless

Standard

Next in our series of amazing chinchilla videos:

Born in the chill reaches of the Andes mountains, few chinchillas have the drive to delve beneath the surface into the strange world found… under the blanket!  

I present to you Troi – the lovely, the bold, and the slightly dense!

Advertisements

Roseate Spoonbill and a Milestone

Standard

Well, this is one of my last wildlife videos from Florida. I hope to be able to gather some more soon! They probably won’t be from Florida though 🙂

Anyhow, this is a Roseate Spoonbill (and you should recognize his Wood Stork companion), feeding in a pond in the Everglades. You can see his spoon-shaped bill – you’ll never guess how it got its name. It uses the flattened part of its bill to sift through mud and muck to catch little aquatic invertebrates and hunts mostly by touch, like the Wood Stork. The bald head is something else they share, and although there are several theories, no one knows exactly why this is beneficial for them, although we suspect it has something to do with how it sticks its whole face underwater. The side-to-side movement is a very typical feeding behavior for this species. Like flamingos, the pink coloration is a by-product of carotinoid pigments (specifically canthaxanthin and astaxanthin, if you want to get all scientific) in its diet.

They’re beautiful birds, and I was really lucky to see a few!

I hoped to have excellent news this week on the writing front – and I do! I’ve finished my list of changes for the King’s Mark revision, and I’m on to the final polish. I plan to have it complete by the end of the week, so my dad can read it on the plane when he heads overseas next weekend. However, all this work means I haven’t been doing much thinking about other things, like blog topics… so here’s an alligator!

Distracted yet? No?

Now?

Mockingbird Shenanegans

Standard

Well, I’ve been typing my fingers to the bone this week, working on King’s Mark revisions, and also on the first draft of Thieves of Moirai. I’ve made a lot of progress, especially this weekend, but my brain is now mush.

So rather than leave you with no exciting blog update, I thought I’d do a short one. Below is a video from my recent trip to Florida. It’s a Northern Mockingbird doing some sort of display. It’s a little odd, because although it looks a little like she’s drawing our attention away from something (many birds do this to protect their babies or their nests), it is both too early in the season for her to have a nest, and not an entirely typical display. Anyway, you can judge for yourself!

Interesting, isn’t it? Here are some random pics for you, also:

And here is a green anole – they are native, unlike the brown anoles that were introduced to the state.

This is taken just after a bottlenose dolphin jumped beside our boat. It was amazing to see wild dolphins up close, but they were surprisingly camera shy, and we couldn’t get video or a pic.

And this is a green heron, which are normally very shy small herons. This particular bird was right out in the open beside a boardwalk. He’s in his hunting position, ready to strike, and he didn’t so much as blink when I took this picture.

And that’s it for today! Hope you have a great week!

Anhingas Galore!

Standard

Anhingas are one of my favorite birds, and we saw plenty of them during our trip last month. The video above shows one we disturbed during one of our walks, and that awful croaking noise is his vocalization.

Like cormorants, anhingas lack the waterproofing that other waterbirds possess. When they dive underwater to hunt, their feathers become soaked through. This and their particularly dense bones (for birds) helps them remain submerged without effort, allowing them to hunt in shallow areas and to stalk their prey. When they surface, their bodies remain underwater with only their long necks sticking up – their sinuous movements make them look like snakes in the water, which earned them the name “Snake Bird.” Getting video of this is harder than I expected. We managed to get the video below, but you have to hang in there – the bird pops up twice, once around 20 seconds and once near the end.

Because they get so wet, their time underwater is limited by heat loss. They spend an inordinate amount of time drying off and sunning themselves – the main reason you won’t find these birds in Seattle! This female is drying off after a swim.

And last, here’s a video of an anhinga dealing with a fish slightly too big and alive for it to swallow:

8 Life Lessons from Music & Writing… and a Bittern

Standard

This is an American Bittern, a secretive bird related to herons. The way it sways is a defensive behavior, in this case he’s responding to being spotted by my dad and I. With its beak stretched skyward, the vertical stripes on its neck and chest help it hide in the tall grasses. The swaying makes its camouflage more effective, mimicking the way the reeds move in the wind. This bittern either wasn’t completely sold on the danger we presented, or thought stretching its neck would be more dangerous than holding still. At the end of this post, I have a photo of another bittern we saw in a more typical defensive pose.

I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to be involved in so many extracurriculars in my life. From dance to pottery to softball, they all taught me something. But of the myriad things I’ve tried, writing and music have had the greatest impact. Surprisingly, the elements for success in music and writing are very similar – and helpful in real life, too!

1. No one else can do it for you

You play the instrument, you put your own words down on the page. Others can have an impact on what you’re doing, but in the end it’s all you. You get all the glory when things go well, but you also can’t blame other people for trouble. For good or ill, we alone are responsible for our stories, our performances, and our lives.

2. Enjoy your muse, but don’t trust her

Give yourself permission to go with it when you feel inspired. It can be tons of fun, a fulfilling, thrilling feeling. Besides, sometimes real creativity requires you to let go and try something just for the heck of it. But remember that having fun doesn’t always have the best results – after all, we all love belting out a song at the top of our lungs, but it usually isn’t something other people want to listen to!

3. The basics matter

Scales, arpeggios, grammar, vocabulary. If you don’t have the basics, you don’t have a foundation. Everything you try to build will just end up a mess. And you can’t stop practicing scales just because you’ve already learned them. Even when your muscles know the movements so well you don’t even have to think, you still have to practice them. These things are the heart of your craft, neglect them and your efforts will be inefficient and generally futile.

4. The first time is never the best time

Sight-reading can be fun, so can your first story or first draft. There is always a first time, you should go for it with gusto. My band teacher always said, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it worth it.” But it’s not the best you can do. Don’t settle.

5. Practice, practice, practice!

Write the words, play the music. Recognize and then focus on the things you don’t have down, over and over, even if it means driving your house-mates or critique group mad with the repetition. Try new approaches, new embouchures, new fingerings. Use the tuner, the metronome, and feedback from your beta readers to help figure out what to fix. Work hard – you get out of it what you put in. All the talent in the world can’t make up for laziness.

6. Listen to other people

The conductor makes sure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Your private teacher encourages you and makes sure you keep growing. Your trusted readers make sure you are communicating what you hoped to communicate. From your performance at work to relationships to your grand masterpiece, there is literally nothing in life that doesn’t benefit from wise counsel. The human mind is finite, and nobody can do it all themselves. Find other people to help you!

7. Recognize mistakes, but don’t dwell on them.

Only pay enough attention to your mistakes to learn from them. Otherwise, you paralyze yourself, and you can’t grow when you’re paralyzed. In writing, there’s always another draft and a new book. In music, there’s another piece of music and another performance. In life, time charges ahead.

8. The audience matters

You play to be heard, you write to be read. If neither of these things happen, you have not achieved your goal. Strive to give your audience something valuable, and they will give you their attention (note: valuable things don’t have to be what they ask for or what they’ve gotten before). If you want others to care about you, you have to care about them.

American bittern, in alarm stance

Wood Storks and Audio Dramas

Standard

Wild Literati Pictures presents Wood Stork Foraging for Food

This was cool to see for several reasons. First, Wood Storks are endangered. They have beautiful feathers and nest colonially, which made them a target of the feather industry (for hat feathers). In addition, humans destroyed large portions of their breeding habitat when we changed the way water flows through the southeastern states to create more land appropriate for agriculture and human habitation.

The way this species forages for food is very interesting, and you can see it in the video above. It holds its bill partially open under the water, and snaps it shut when it feels prey moving. This is called tactolocation, and allows the stork to hunt in the dark or in murky water. You can see the bird stir the water with its foot, disturbing prey that might otherwise hide until the stork has passed.

Awesome, isn’t it?

On to other things. I rarely offer actual writing advice, as I’m still new at this and don’t feel particularly qualified to tell other people what will help them succeed. But there is one thing that I haven’t seen or heard anyone in the writing community talk about, but I think has helped me significantly – audio fiction.

I love old radio programs, audio books, and fiction podcasts. Partially, I have trouble doing only one thing at a time. But mostly, I just love stories, and if I can listen to a story while driving, that’s all the better.

How does this help me write? They say “great writers are voracious readers,” and I’m sure the additional exposure to professional-quality fiction doesn’t hurt. But I think it is more than that; I think it helps develop the inner ear.

Too often, we writers become too insulated, and forget that other people have a different voice inside their heads. We read our sentences a particular way and expect everyone else will as well. Having beta readers and critique partners is a great way to spot some of those places in a particular piece. But hearing a story read to you, hearing someone other than yourself interpret the phrasing and rhythm of a story, forces a different perspective. When I read a story, sometimes I catch myself mentally rearranging sentences in a way that is more pleasing to me, or how I would write them. But when I’m listening, I accept the way it is told without meddling.

So I’d encourage you to listen to some audio fiction, if you don’t already. It can help train your ear for voice, dialogue, and style.

Or it seems so to me, anyway!