Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sleep, Pee and Poop

I should be making a list right now, but I just had to tell y’all something. We were recently informed that on or around last December 14th Thor’s sleep, pee and poop were normal. Yes indeedy. Sleep? Normal. Pee? Normal. Poop? Normal. That’s our girl! We’re just so proud of her that I think we’re gonna have t-shirts made up. They also wrote that she was lively and she had a good appetite. Ha!! Our hearts are just full to bursting. Full to BURSTING I tell ya!

We learned all of this from her surgery report. The one that they filled out when she went in to have her cleft lip repaired, thanks to The Smile Train. These wonderful people provide cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries to children all over the 71 countries to be exact. One of their angel doctors fixed our daughter’s cleft lip so we made a donation in her honor. Go check out their website and consider a donation yourself. And remember one thing...her sleep, pee and poop are normal. HA!!


Friday, July 20, 2007

If anybody sees my head...

...could you please pick it up and pop it in the post. Tanksferdat. You see, I think it’s finally popped off and I just really hate the thought of kids using it as a soccer ball or some dog chewing on it. It hasn’t been doing me much good lately but I'm thinking it could really come in handy at some point in the future. ? Maybe.

You know how they say there are like three really big life changes that can affect your family: 1) Having a child, 2) Moving, 3) Changing jobs, and let’s just add another for fun 4) House burning down. Any one of these things is known to be a major stressor, but what would a therapist say if they knew I was dealing with all four at the same time? They would probably advise me to just leave the head because I don’t really need it right now and it’s just going to pop off again tomorrow.

So here’s a little update, saving the best for last of course...

House Burning Down (or “essentially destroyed by fire”, as we prefer to say): The house is coming along great. Our contractors and their marketer turned the restoration into a real project that showcases green building practices and “what to do if your house burns down” education. We’ve got hard hat tours, open houses, way cool vendor participation AND our home has been chosen to be on the City’s Build it Green! Tour this year. All this AND the restoration is coming along great. The plumbing, wiring and radiant heat are all in and now they’re putting up sheetrock, which means there’s actual walls. The windows and doors are in and they’re absolutely stunning (at least from what I can tell in the pictures) and the siding is going up on the back of the house (where the fire was). All of this while we’re on the other side of the planet. It’s all quite amazing actually. Our contractors are wonderful and kind and we trust them. If it were not for them our heads would’ve popped off a long time ago. We have no doubt the house will be absolutely gorgeous AND we’re thinking that, after a couple of dinner parties and some Thor-time in the Tupperware cupboard, she’ll be ours again.

Moving and Changing Jobs: I need to combine these because they kind of go together. Things are a little complicated on this front. We were originally planning on going home at the beginning of August because that’s the end of our two years here, but the house won’t be done by then so we were granted an extension from The Death Star, requiring certain commitments from Floyd. Along came Thor...and we’re suddenly wondering how quickly we can move back...but Floyd made commitments...but the house won’t be get the picture. Then we add the issues with my little place of employment (I think we called it R2D2 before). The messages are mixed but I’m hearing they could use me back in the office, The conversation went something like this...

“So, I’ve only got one or two months left to play in Ireland and you want me to come back early and go to work? Are you out of your fekkin’ mind?”
“Oh…you’re going to pay me?
“How much?”
“I’ll see you Monday.”

It’s just that simple. We have a few expenses right now so we’ve gotta dig deep and just do what needs to be done. And if that means going back to the States, AND my cubicle, AND being away from Floyd for 4-5 weeks, AND not seeing our home together for the first time, AND not spending our anniversary be it. You gotta do what you gotta do.

Having a Baby: Oh yea, Thor, I almost forgot...NOT! Thor is front and center in all of this mayhem. As y’all know, Thor is in China’s Waiting Child Program because of her cleft lip/cleft palate. That program works a little differently from their Traditional or Non-Special Needs Program. Our Letter of Intent (LOI) was sent to China on June 26th and we are now waiting for our Letter of Acceptance (LOA), which is actually a letter from China asking if we’re still interested. Ummmm....gee, let me think... This seems like a crazy step, but they are simply seeking confirmation (the other name for this step) that we can handle her special needs. These days the LOA can take over 100 days to get (ugh) UNLESS your original file (the one we sent in May 2006) was already through the review room, which would mean that it may only take about 35 days (much better). Now, we’re pretty sure our file was out of the review room but we just don’t know for sure. It gets kind of complicated and involves lots of dates and I won’t bore you with it (as opposed to boring you with all this other stuff). Needless to say, only time will tell, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it (except take deep breaths). Then after we send back our LOA we wait another 3-4 weeks for our Travel Authorization (TA) and travel can happen within a few weeks of that. Essentially, if things go according to schedule we could be traveling as early as mid- to late September or as late as mid-November. But there is just nothing certain in this whole process, so we still send out LOTS of good juju.

Speaking of good juju, we are off to London this weekend because we have to renew some adoption paperwork (the thumbs-up by the Feds, i.e. the Holy Grail of adoption paperwork) and, in order to do so, we need to renew our fingerprints. Yes, you heard me correctly. Renew our fingerprints. Because they changed so much over the last year. I would really love for somebody to tally up what it costs, financially and mentally, the potential adoptive parents to comply with all of these fekkin’ silly-ass rules to bring home their child. I realize there have been a few bad apples but, man! The Feds (I can't even bring myself to name their office in this blog because I just know they're reading it) have us all by the cajones and it just isn’t comfortable. So, the good juju comes in the form of the vibes that we send to the Feds so that they do not choose to mess with us and we can get our renewed paperwork before we travel (feel free to light candles...if you have any left).

So – off we go to jolly-old London. We have our sights set on toy shopping to help stock the little care package that we’re sending to Thor and her foster family. We’re also going to check out the precious antiquities that were plundered from ancient sites all over the world, such as those we just saw in Turkey and Pompeii, and now reside in the British Museum (for safekeeping of course). We might sample a few real ales as well. So, as usual, any complaints I might have about such things as renewing our fingerprints are now falling on deaf ears.

And let’s not forget the nesting. That instinctual maternal nesting that I am so needing to do right now...and can’t. Imagine. I can’t decorate her room because it’s on the other side of the planet. I can’t buy baby stuff over here because it’s wayyy too expensive and we’d just have to, somehow, get it back to the States. It’s a little frustrating. But you know what I can do? I can make lists. I can make lists of all of the lists that I need to make. That’s what I CAN do. I can also read books about adoption and attachment, join Yahoo Groups, research craniofacial surgical teams back home, talk to other adoptive parents, bake cookies, and...make lists of lists.

So that’s where we’re at these days. Oh, and it’s been raining for 43 days straight here in Ireland. I don’t think I mind it as much as some but I definitely feel a wee bit mental. Something tells me it’s not the rain though.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Turkey by Birds, Part 4. Mediterranean and Aegean Coasts

OK – This is it. I promise. I’m trying to wrap up this little travelbirdalogue, ‘cause I’ve got a baby to write about...

On our way out of Cappadocia we were planning a stop at Sultansazligi (totally westernized spelling as I lack the Turkish characters to spell it properly), a wetland complex that is listed in our guidebook as “worth the hunting out” for its bird life. Alas, it was dried up. Dust. When I reflected on the gross mismanagement of water that I had observed on our drive thus far, it wasn’t surprising (this is where I’m climbing up onto my soapbox). Of course water issues are not unique to Turkey. Chances are you can look in your own backyard and see the same thing (when I wrote “your own backyard” I wasn’t thinking in the literal sense, but then I realized that maybe we should look in our own backyard and think about how WE are using a start). To be fair, the Sultansazligi wetlands might usually be dried up at this time of year; however, if they were they probably wouldn’t be wetlands. The following is a quote from a website discussing the wetlands:
“Agricultural intensification and associated water management in the basin poses a serious threat - reduced water inputs and a lack of rainfall led to the wetland drying up in 1990 and 1991. The wetland can only be preserved if further expansion of the irrigation scheme is cancelled. Industrial, agricultural and untreated urban waste enters through drainage channels. Tourists cause disturbance, and uncontrolled reed-cutting takes place... Illegal hunting of falcons occurs on the surrounding steppe. The management plan covers developing ecotourism at the site.”

But let me state the obvious, it’s going to be difficult to develop ecotourism if there are no wetlands (we did watch a Shore Lark picking dead bugs off the roadway, but that experience would be difficult to market to anyone other than the most ardent of birders). We saw water being applied to fields in the middle of the (scorching hot) day, we saw rows of restaurants with these archaic “showers” of water being dumped out of pipes at their entrance (I assume to cool the air and to create a sense of serene that water features are known for – because I deal with water issues in my line of work, this particular water feature made me sick to my stomach), we saw broken irrigation pipes spewing water into the air, we saw all of the same kinds of mismanagement and waste of water that we often see in agricultural areas everywhere...and it made me sad...and the wetlands were dried up. Floyd asked, “where do the birds go when their wetlands are dried up?” Good question baby...good question.

So anyway...

We headed south to the Mediterranean. This is the part of the trip where we fly by the seat of our pants. No reservations, no plans. We’re winging it. We figure we’ll get to the Med, find a quaint little beach off the beaten track and sit there for a few days (ha). But, before we do that, we decided to spend some time at the “crown jewel of Turkey’s birding sites”, the Goksu Delta, a vast area of reed beds, emergent wetlands, open water (fresh and saline) and agriculture. We showed up in the early evening and climbed up one of the lookout towers to spy for flamingos and whatnot but we were pretty much skunked. Yes, it was lovely, and I can still hear the sound of the wind working its way through the massive reed beds, but no birds, so we stayed the night in town and tried it again in the (early) morning. A gentle and quiet morning of birding afforded us glimpses of the Purple Heron, a pair of Marsh Harriers, Little Ringed Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Short-toed Lark, Skylark, Red-rumped Swallows, Black Francolin (no glimpse, just the call), Yellow Wagtails, the Yellow-vented Bulbul (love that name), and the European Reed Warbler. Not the sort of a list that most folks come back with but nice. Nice morning...nice birds. Best part though? The young fox that I came face to face with as I was bending down to pick up a fox(?) skull. Cool.

The rest of the day was kind of a disappointment. Our eventual destination was Patara Beach, on the Turquoise Coast...a long ways we had hoped that we would be able to duck into a quiet little cove along the Mediterranean for a night just to break up the trip. But no. The ENTIRE Mediterranean coastline has been turned into one giant concrete block of hotels and condos. Now, Floyd and I don’t need a pristine beach, but we do have some standards, and these standards prevented us from enjoying a coastline that had been shamelessly brutalized by rampant, ugly development. I’m sure there were remote exceptions, but they were few and probably threatened. Sad. So we drove and drove and drove (actually Floyd drove the whole way, being the calm cool cookie that he is and best suited to driving in Turkey. I drove in problem. Turkey? Problem.). So we wound up driving all the way to Patara, found a *wonderful* pension and spend the next day on the beach (i.e., the rotisserie) frying our doughy skin. D’oh. No more days on the beach for us.

One evening, after spending the day stumbling around ruins (Tlos and Xantos), we decided to walk (sneak) down to the beach. The reason why Patara was our destination is because the beach is protected as nesting habitat for Loggerhead and Green sea turtles. The one day we did spent on the beach I took a little walk along the water and saw several spots where a turtle had dragged herself out of the ocean to dig her nest in the sand. Despite its protected status, there are still a lot of people on this beach, all stabbing beach umbrellas into the sand, so it seems the turtles' chances (or the success of their eggs) are limited. There’s a sign as you walk out onto the beach, telling you not to do things like stab beach umbrellas into the sand but there’s certainly nobody there telling you not to do it and EVERYBODY is doing it. I found one turtle nest that, apparently, had been scavenged and I spent time picking up the bits of turtle shell that lay scattered about. Thankfully, the beach is closed at night because this is when the turtles come out of the water to nest. But we snuck down there anyway (yes, we are evil) and we walked along the beach under the twinkling, moonless sky. Soon we came upon a fresh turtle track and we decided to quietly follow it (I know I know...but, remember, we’re evil). About 10 meters away we found a loggerhead turtle digging her nest. I have dreamed my whole life of seeing such a thing. Wow. Despite the evidence to the contrary, we did not want to disturb her so we walked several meters away and sat down in silence. We just wanted to be in her presence. This was right about the time that a dog came sniffing around and alerted the authorities to our presence. Ah well...we didn’t deserve to be there anyway. I hope the old girl dug deep and that her eggs are doing well (the same goes for the rest of us old girls). So here’s a picture of the old girl doing her thing (zoomed wayyy in) and a picture of me saving a turtle (totally different kind of turtle) from sure death on the road (to prove that I’m not pure evil).

The morning we left Patara we hiked down to the wetlands and scrambled around the ruins. Saw some great Little Grebes floating about and watched the Great White Egrets, Coots (oh yes) and Black-winged Stilts doing their thing along the shoreline. I forgot to mention the European Scops Owl that we heard off in the woods the night that we did our nighttime walk (cool) and the Black-eared Wheatear, Masked Shrike and Common Sandpiper that we hung out with during our day-trips amongst the ancient ruins and rivers.

The rest of the trip is ruins, ruins and more ruins. I apologize to those of you that expect some ruminating on the cool old stuff, but like I said before, I’m not your man for that. Aphrodisias was probably my favorite. Possibly because we had the place to ourselves. Ephesus was a madhouse, but we did get to meet a Dutch fellow that was cataloging the interesting designs that had been carved into the marble at “shop fronts”, upper seats of amphitheaters, and other various places. They’re still not sure what all of these designs mean, but many of them served as game boards, like ancient Roman versions of tic-tac-toe, checkers, backgammon, etc. Some of the games they’ve figured out...others they haven’t. Fascinating. I love it when we can’t figure stuff out. Here’s a picture of this gentleman showing me how they think one of the games was played...on an ancient board (in my usual lady-like way...could you sit that way in a toga?).

So there you have it. Our trip to Turkey. This trip marks a few things for us. Our last (big) trip while living in Europe, our last trip before we head to China and bring Thor home, we both turn 40 in about a month and we’ve got a wedding anniversary thrown in there as well. One could say we killed a lotta birds with this trip (hehe). Here’s some more pics... thanks for hanging in there.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Turkey by Birds, Part 3. Cappadocia

Day 7-10, Cappadocia

Driving south from Amasya, we headed to Cappadocia. Other than the breathtaking beauty of the landscape, the “lifers” (birds you’ve never seen before, such as Black-headed Buntings), and the brushes with death inherent to driving in Turkey, the drive was relatively uneventful. We headed straight into the heart of Cappadocia, one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen. Truly. Right up there with Eastern Oregon. Geologists would offer that geology is the basis of any landscape but in this case it’s the geology that really shines. Because the area is relatively devoid of vegetation you get to revel in pure dirty bliss. Check out the link, above, for a tidbit of geo info. If you don’t care, here are some photos that don’t do it justice.

Needless to say, this landscape plays habitat to a whole host of awesome birds and, as such, this was probably my favorite part of the trip. We had Egyptian Vultures soaring over our heads as we pondered an incredible sunset and Rock Sparrows regaled us with song at the entrances to the cave churches (see the pics of the cave frescoes below). Other birds that flitted amongst the tuff were the Rock Thrush, Northern Wheatear and Bimaculated Lark.

During our sunset watch we also spied the nest of a Long-legged Buzzard. After feeding the two nestlings a tasty little rodentia, the adult flew to the peak of a nearby troglodyte and gazed out over his/her kingdom. The two young ventured closer and closer to the edge of the nest (wanting to be like Mom or Dad) and we optimistically waited for one to make that great leap. Alas, no fledging on our watch. It was a nice thing to see though.

The Ihlara Valley was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip for me...but don’t say you heard it from me. This special place needs The growth of tourism in this area will be its death for sure. Surprisingly, we had the whole day to ourselves (actually, we did run into one family playing in the river - guess where they were from? Yep, the good old U.S. of A...jaysus, we’re everywhere). It’s a beautiful river canyon that lacks the “fairy chimneys” and standard geological jaw-droppers but it does have it’s fair share of historical significance with a scattering of, relatively unvisited, cave churches and dwellings. And the birds? Oh yea. As you would expect with any lush, riparian habitat in an arid for birds, man. Totally hot. We saw Golden Orioles, Black Redstarts, Nightingales (no song though, too late in the season?), and HOOPOES!!!! Just like the Wood Duck when I first started birding...I’ve been staring at that photo of the Hoopoe in my European bird book for a looong time now...dreaming of the day, and when that day comes you KNOW that bird. You KNOW that wing flash. You KNOW that crest. You just know. Pretty cool. There was a family or foraging flock of them that we followed (or chased?) all along our hike. Happiness. Then there were the birds in the air, riding the thermals along the cliff edge...the Booted Eagle and Lesser Kestrel. It was a fine day in all respects.

Then we spent ½ day carpet shopping. The sad thing is that we discovered we were really only interested in the 100 year old carpets and, not only could we NOT afford them, we realized how funny it would be to watch Thor’s sippy-cup opening up it's juicy contents all over a 100-year old Turkish carpet. Funny. Suffice to say that beautiful carpet deserves a more refined resting place than on the floor of our family room.

So here’s a few more pictures of the underground and cave dwellings in the Cappadocia area, as well as a picture of the Turkish version of yum. Stay tuned for the next installment where we visit the “crown jewel of Turkey’s birding areas” and spy on a nesting loggerhead turtle. You wouldn’t want to miss that now would you?


Friday, July 13, 2007

Turkey by Birds, Part 2. Amasya

Day 5-7, Amasya

When the time came we were both eager to get out of Istanbul, not just to see the sites beyond, but because the air quality was soooo bad. I had come down with some nasty bug just before our trip and, even several days into the trip, was still struggling with some residual bronchial ick. I was pretty sure the smog, grill smoke (imagine 1000s of kebabs being grilled up every day on every corner), and second-hand cigarette smoke were probably not helping. Once we had rented our car and flung ourselves onto the mercies of the Turkish transportation system, it seemed forever to get out of Istanbul. The concrete just kept going and going and going...and going.

But once we got out, like really out, everything changed. The haze opened up and so did the road. Flat and straight. The landscape turned to a mosaic of small farms, rolling hills, deciduous pockets AND...utility lines! Yes, utility lines are the friend of the bird (usually) and the birder. They provide a suitable perch for foraging or hunting and they hug the road...where the birders are. A most perfect juxtaposition. We saw a couple of cool birds on the wire on this trip…the Red-backed Shrike and, best of all (for me), the European Roller (I'm a sucker for blue birds). We also caught our first (Turkish) glimpse of the beautiful White Storks...a flock of them snacking and loafing (my favorite bird behavioral term – refers to a resting bird) in an ag field (see those little black dots in the picture? Yea, that's them.). These are the storks that are famous for nesting on mosque minarets, etc. Cool birds. We’ll be seeing more of them later in the trip (aren’t you excited?!).

We pulled into the little town of Amasya, in northern Anatolia, where the air was (relatively) clean and the frogs croaked for love on the nasty, polluted river (As a side note, littering is rampant in Turkey. I realize this sounds very elitest of me, but, in addition to the very poor, I watched apparently very privileged people – even by US standards – callously dispose of their trash into the river, roadside, ruins, wherever. Most disturbing was the little boy that, upon finishing his soda, flung the plastic bottle into the river. His parents strolled beside him, the mother almost saying something [maybe just my hope], but choosing to remain silent. The father barely took notice. Apparently this is not a concern of even those that appear to have the resources and time to be concerned).

We stayed in a charming, kilim laden, restored Ottoman house with a pair of Coal Tit’s nesting in a gourd in the courtyard and House Sparrows that knocked on our windows in the morning. Mountains and cliffs surround Amasya, therefore, it was no surprise that there were loads of swifts and swallows swirling about. We saw House Martins, the swifts I’ve already mentioned, and Crag Martins. I liked thinking about how the ancestors of these birds were swirling around here thousands of years ago, diving at the slaves that were carving the rock tombs of the Pontic kings out of the cliff-face (see them in the picture above?). It was while we were exploring these tombs that we saw one of my favorite birds of the trip, the Western Rock Nuthatch. These little guys poke about and nest in old rock walls and ruins, which meant I could bird-watch and ruin-watch at the same time. How convenient.

We met a wonderful gentleman in the market in Amasya and he spent half of his day showing us around. He took us to the castle, brought us into the 15th century Medresesi founded by the Chief White Eunuch of Beyazit II that is now a boys Koran school (where I was astounded to be allowed in – the Turks obviously have a very different attitude about this kind of thing than the Moroccans) and the 15th century hamam (during the men’s bathing hour...I tried to stay outside but he wouldn’t let me, dragging me in, much to the amusement of the men steaming and bathing inside. Thankfully I saw no birds here.).

The real treat for me was the early 14th century Medresesi, built by the Mongols as a lunatic asylum, where music therapy was used as a means of pacification. Since that time, and still today, it is used as a music conservatory. Our host asked two students to perform a folk piece for us, which they did obligingly. I could’ve stayed there all day, listening, gazing at the intricate engravings, but our host found the voice of the young student to be painful, so he pulled us away. Funny...I would’ve never known.

And here's a shot of the traditional Turkish breakfast. There are a few variations but you will always get a hard-boiled egg, olives, a lovely Turkish cheese, tomatoes and cucumber. Happiness.

The next installment will have a little something for everyone (geologists AND birders)...we explore Cappadocia - home of fairy chimneys and Egyptian vultures!


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Turkey by Birds, Part I. Istanbul

* Edited to revise pics below. If anybody has any suggestions for *really* simple and free photo editors, lemme know.

Floyd and I just got back from a two-week trip to Turkey where we covered a lot of ground, saw a lot of amazing things, experienced some memorable stuff and ate A LOT of kebabs (or kebaps, as they would say in Turkey). This was a unique trip in so many ways, but it was unique for me in that I had a bird book. Yes, a bird book. “Birds of the Middle East” to be specific. And it changed the whole trip.

You see, I didn’t have a bird book when we took our trip to Morocco at the end of last year, and that really shook my universe. I had my binos (binoculars), and I saw birds, but I couldn’t ID them and, as my good friend the Chief can well understand, this was difficult for me. So I entered a sort of zen-like state where I simply enjoyed the unidentifiable birds for what they were...a flash of yellow, an snippet of song, a flit between the bushes, a dart amongst the leaves, a shadow on the wire, something gliding above me to briefly block out the sun. All very wonderful moments but, as a bird-watcher (or a “twitcher” as they’re aptly called over here), it was difficult for me. So I took a deep breath...and another...and then I let it go...again and again. Once I had mastered this zen-like state it really allowed me to enjoy other aspects of the space.

Whatever...I needed a flippin’ bird book. To this day I still think about some of those flashes of yellow and wonder what they were. It’s an addiction. I’ve got a warbler on my back and I just can’t shake it.

So this time I took advantage of a moment of clarity a few weeks before our trip and ordered the bird book, which changed everything. Now I could twitch twitch twitch away, disregarding ancient ruins, apple tea and carpet salesmen to follow some LBJ (little brown job) into the brush. Almost.

You see I love birds but I’m not so fanatical about birding that I fail to look at my surroundings. There are some people out there that give birding a bad bad name. We’ve all heard about those people, the serious twitchers (let’s call them tweekers shall we?), that travel the world counting up species, keeping their Life List, and completely failing to appreciate the places they are in. The people, the culture, the food, the know? I am not a tweeker. But birds do bring me closer to my surroundings. They make me think about the landscape, the habitats, the air and water quality, the disturbances, the food (no, not kebabs) and the predators. And thinking about these things gets me more in tune with where I’m at, on a few levels.

So I’m going to write about the birds I saw on our trip…and I think this is OK. First, because you don’t need me dumbing down some of the most important Islamic (and Christian) architecture and ancient ruins in the world. Somebody else (pretty much anybody else) can do a much better job of talking about those things. Secondly, and most importantly, I really like birds.

Now this might take a while so we’ll take the installment plan.

Day 1-4, Istanbul

Istanbul is a giant city. The historic (touristy) area is pretty much contained to the center of the City but the cheap, concrete apartment blocks stretch on and on and on; therefore, I wasn’t surprised to read that Istanbul has less green space per head of population than almost any other European city (Istanbul’s population is somewhere around 15 million, about the same as the entire New York metropolitan area). But not all birds need green space. Istanbul’s concrete forests and mosque mountains provide habitat to all sorts of birds. Noisy birds. Ror example, the swirling cyclone flocks of Common and Alpine Swifts shrieking and swarming the mosques and minarets all day and into the night, the Laughing Doves right outside of our window (guess what kind of a call this bird has at 5 in the morning?), and the Yellow-legged Gulls plying the skies, neck stretched, offering up an embarrassingly obnoxious laugh (remember that chick from Jersey at the wedding?).

Even non-birders can imagine my delight in finding the familiar cranky twittering of the House Sparrow (you know the one) was ubiquitous throughout city and countryside. They were everywhere. Even after driving 10 hours from Istanbul, to what felt like the most remote corner of the earth, I'd spy an LBJ, excitedly grab the binos and scan the shrub…only to see the unmistakable black bib of the House Sparrow. Little shit.

The quiet, less conspicuous birds were the flocks of Mediterranean Shearwaters that dodged the tankers and ferries, lightly skimming the midnight surface of the Bosphorous. And let’s not forget the Shags (tee-hee) and the Black-headed Gulls.

Interestingly, I had one of my more spiritual moments of the trip with a Rock Dove (a pigeon – or winged rat to some) that was nesting in the vaulted ceiling of Aya Sofya (“the Church of the Divine Wisdom” and, for a thousand years, the largest enclosed space in the world). Aya Sofya is generally a dark space but has the most amazing, dust-diffused light that comes in through the windows, illuminating the brilliant designs, paintings and mosaics that cover the walls and ceilings. While admiring this space, I watched a dove fly into its nest above and lose one of its feathers. I then watched the feather gently, slowly float down, through a shaft of light, to the floor, interestingly, to a very empty space in a room full of people. I waited a moment to see if anybody that was closer to the feather would pick it up...I mean how cool was that? But I quickly realized that nobody else had even noticed it. So I walked over and picked up, what I felt was, a most blessed of feathers. It served as the bookmark in my bird book for the trip and is one of the best souvenirs that I brought back.

Here are some pictures from Istanbul...and watch for the next installment, in which Floyd and Millicent careen through the Turkish countryside and bright yellow birds are identified!