About a month ago, I went for a ride on the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad. The train follows a gorgeous path through the West Virginia country side, the highlight of which is through a gorge of the South Branch of the Potomac River known as the Trough. The train is called the Potomac Eagle because you are almost guaranteed to see bald eagles while in the Trough. I think we saw almost ten. I got photographs of about five. Truthfully even if I hadn’t seen the eagles, the scenery was worth the trip.
I took a cruise up the Monkey River today. Getting there was an adventure into itself. An hour drive to Placencia, then at least a half hour boat ride to Monkey River Town, to finally then cruise up the Monkey River. The journey ended at a spot in the jungle which is completely overrun by mosquitoes, but there are also some howler monkeys. The howler monkeys are about as loud as you can imagine an animal that gets the name howler would be. The Monkey River flows through a grassy and mangrove area that is quite pretty. There were numerous birds just sitting along the edge waiting to be spotted. Our guide also spotted a crocodile on the way back that nicely ignored us.
I came to Vermont for a conference, but I arrived a day early to do a little sightseeing. One place we visited was the Green Mountain Audubon Center outside Huntington. It is a really lovely place to wander around for several hours. It has a hemlock swamp, a gorgeous river running through it, forests full of ferns, and lots of pretty flowers. We also saw a few nice birds, and I saw some really cool looking insects, which I cannot identify.
On Day 9 in Iceland, we took a cruise out of Húsavík to try to see whales. We chose a cruise on a sailboat that took us by an island where we were pretty much guaranteed to see puffins. The puffins did not disappoint. We also lucked out and saw white-beaked dolphins and two blue whales. I have never seen blue whales before, so I was very excited about that. We were also visited by one friendly fulmar, and the cruise included spectacular views of the fjord.
Day 6 in Iceland, we traveled from the south to the east via the Ring Road. We made the obligatory stop at Jökulsárlón, the Glacier Lagoon. It is a major tourist attraction for good reason. It is beautiful. The lagoon is at the end of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, and the glacier breaks off pieces to form icebergs in the lagoon. Icebergs just slowly float through the lagoon before entering the sea. Many types of birds can be found in the lagoon, as well as seals. We spotted at least 15 seals playing in the water, and I managed to get a few photos of some of them.
While at Reynisfjall, we hit the puffin jackpot. There were puffins flying around, presumably out to the water to catch fish. Some of them landed on the cliffs near us, and I got some great photos.
Day 2 in Iceland. We drove to Landeyjaharbour to catch the ferry to Heimaey. Generally tourists, including us, go to Heimaey to try to see puffins. Unfortunately we seemed to have visited the island too early in the season. We took a cruise around the island but didn’t see any puffins. However the island is beautiful, and the terrain is impressive, all of which is a result of the volcanic origin of the island. On the south side of the island, the effects of the 1973 volcanic eruption are evident. I am disappointed not to have seen puffins, but at least we did see gulls, guillemots, and eiders. Also, our cruise featured a trip into a cave where our captain played the saxophone to demonstrate the cave’s acoustical properties.
We walked around the town a little and had lunch a neat little coffee shop called Vinaminni Kaffihus, which is next to Arnor Bakari, and now I feel like I am gaining the ability to read Icelandic. On the ferry back, we were accompanied by I think almost the entire town. They were going to support the town’s school’s handball team which was evidently playing in the national championships or something like that. The entire ferry was decked out in support of the team, and there were eight buses waiting for the them on the mainland. We briefly discussed that since the entire town seemed to have left the island, that we could invade and take possession of the island like modern day pirates. However, we had no idea what to do with the island, and Icelanders are so nice, we didn’t want to do that to them. We decided just to go to Reykavik for dinner instead.
Several snowy owls have been seen in the DC metro area. Many people in the area have heard about the one that was hanging out in McPherson Square and then got hit by a Metro bus. This is why DC can’t have nice things.
I had heard that a snowy owl was spotted numerous times at Gravelly Point, so today I decided to go for a long walk that included going there. I was not exactly disappointed. When I finally got to Gravelly Point, there were numerous people standing around with scopes, binoculars, and cameras with zoom lenses. I was doubtful that all of them were plane spotters, and I was right, they were birders. There was a snowy owl hanging out at Reagan National Airport. It was right next to the runways, possibly it was too warm today, and it was going to hitch a ride north. According to the birders I spoke to, the theory is that it likes the airport because the low cut grass reminds it of the tundra. I imagine the airport also has rodents. I got a few of it on top of a windsock and later what I am fairly sure is a weather station. You are going to have to trust me. That really is a snowy owl, I promise.
On a related note, you can generally spot birders easily when a rare bird is about. Birders travel in flocks like the birds with which they are fascinated. When I arrived at the park, you could say, I joined my flock. Birders are really wonderful because they are almost always happy to let you use their scope, point you in the right direction, and share information about the sighting and other sightings. The enthusiasm is infectious. While I was standing there, at least a few non-birders stopped to ask at what everyone was looking. Many were equally enthused about the rare sightings. I hope these snowy owls that have come to DC will get more people interested and concerned about nature and wildlife.
I buy a lot of stuff online. I hate malls. I would much rather shop while sitting in front of my computer. Also, I can find a much better selection of many things online. I specifically shop at Amazon.com a lot. Several months ago, I joined Amazon Prime that guarantees free two day delivery. Well, it’s free after you pay the Amazon Prime membership fee. I’ve never had a problem with Amazon Prime deliveries or almost any other delivers. Every once in a while I get a delivery that is considered too expensive or big that they won’t deliver it without me being present, but it is pretty rare. When I ordered my new DSLR camera I couldn’t even leave a signature slip, but considering how much my new camera is worth, I was fine with needing to receive it in person. I’ve had big and small boxes left on my doorstep by FedEx, UPS, and USPS. Huge box with my new dining room chandelier: check. Bulk tea: check. Kindle: check. Several large boxes of Fiestaware: check. Athletic shoes: check. Box filled with jars of peanut butter: check. You get it. I order it. They leave it on my doorstep. I live on a busy street in a safe neighborhood. My doorstep has a balcony above it, so rain is not an issue, and the doorstep is far enough back and obscured enough by geography and vegetation that it is not amazingly obvious that there is package sitting there.
Wednesday I ordered a $23 book, specifically a field guide for birds of Europe, from Amazon with guaranteed delivery Friday. So imagine my surprise when I get an email from Amazon Friday night that stated “UPS attempted to deliver your package but was unable to leave the package unattended.” I’m thinking, really, UPS left my new Kindle on my doorstep, but they are worried about a $23 bird book? I mean I know us birders sometimes have a reputation as being somewhat crazy, but generally we don’t go stealing each other’s bird books. Of course, the book was supposed to be in a box, so no one would know what it is unless Amazon has taken to really new labeling on the packages. I call UPS and ask what is going on and why wouldn’t they leave it unattended. UPS informs me that they actually handed the package off to the USPS, so I need to contact them. So the UPS tracking number that Amazon gave me is pretty much worthless because UPS only tracks it as far as a municipality near mine where they evidently turned it over to the USPS for finally delivery.
Here is the best part about the fact that it was USPS that couldn’t deliver the package: I was home when the mail arrived. My mail is delivered through a slot in my door. I heard it this morning when it arrived. No one knocked at my door or rang my doorbell to try to deliver a package that wouldn’t fit through the mail slot. I did leave the house later in the day, but I presume the whole point of UPS handing the package to USPS, is that the USPS can just deliver the package when they deliver the mail. It makes no sense for USPS to make two trips to my house, the 1st with my regular mail and a 2nd with the package. Furthermore, after UPS told me that it USPS that couldn’t leave the package unattended, I opened the front door and checked. No package and no notice stating that a package couldn’t be delivered was there. So, precisely how the heck am I supposed to know that someone, anyone attempted to deliver a package but couldn’t because I wasn’t there? How am I supposed to know that I need to be home on some (hopefully stated) day in the future? How am I supposed to be able to leave a signature noting that I am perfectly fine with them leaving a $23 bird book sitting on my doorstep?
Then I contact Amazon via a live chat (of which I will copy and paste the conversation from the email with the chat transcript), and I ask them where is my package. He helpfully informs me “They will again try to deliver. By Monday. You must get your item shortly.” Well in the first place, I was guaranteed delivery by Friday. I then said “Well I won’t be home Monday, and they did not leave a slip for me to sign, and since they don’t knock on my door there is no point to the slip anyway.” He patiently tells me “you can try to contact your local post office.” At this point I realize that Amazon like so many other companies obviously has their customer service people in another country because what US resident would suggest you call your local post office?! In the first place, I am not even sure which specific branch is my “local” post office. There are two relatively close to me. Second, have you ever tried to get a human being on the phone at your local post office? Third, the final leg of the UPS tracking has the package in a nearby municipality, but not my municipality. I have no idea form where the postal worker who delivers my mail actually works. I don’t know if they are at my “local” post office or a larger regional one. I have no idea. Fourth, I don’t have a USPS tracking number for the package so what good would it do to call them? As far as I know USPS doesn’t use UPS tracking numbers. Heck, one of the reasons many companies use FedEx and UPS is that they offer easy tracking as opposed to USPS, which really doesn’t. I explain this to the Amazon rep, who once again just states that I should contact USPS. Then I ask “Why did Amazon tell whoever that it couldn’t just be left on my door?” Amazon rep states “A signature is typically required for packages where the total value is more than $250. A signature may still be required for a package where the total value is less than $250; it’s up to the driver’s discretion. We can’t instruct shipping companies how or when to leave packages at a shipping address. Your package was shipped by a special service called UPS Mail Innovations. UPS takes these shipments from our fulfillment centers and transports them to the U.S. Post Office closest to the delivery destination. The U.S. Postal Service will make the final delivery.” This is amazing information to me. I have shipped packages via USPS before, and if want a signature or anything other them just dropping the package off, you have to pay extra for it. Same with FedEx and UPS. I can remember getting packages ready for shipment for FedEx, and there was a little box that you checked if a signature was required. However Amazon with its vast shipping demand is completely unable to tell delivery companies that it doesn’t want a signature? What they heck? And why this of all the packages ever delivered to my house would need a signature? AND HOW ARE THEY GOING TO GET ONE IF THEY NEITHER KNOCK ON MY DOOR NOR LEAVE A SLIP FOR ME TO SIGN?!
So somewhere out there is my bird book. I can only assume it is sitting in a USPS warehouse surrounded by electrified barbed wire and a moat being patrolled by guard dogs and guards with machine guns. I also assume there are lasers and sound detectors and sirens involved. I mean since my package is so dang valuable that they can’t leave it on my doorstep like almost every other package then they clearly think it contains a true treasure that needs that kind of protection. When will I get it? No idea as I’ve got no way to track it now. How will I know when it has arrived? Presumably when the postal worker feels I am ready to receive this valuable book, he or she will sound a trumpet, as opposed to my doorbell or door-knocker, to let me know of its arrival and give me an opportunity to receive it. Perhaps my house did not look welcoming enough yesterday, so I was only allowed to receive my regular mail but not the treasured bird book. Is a red carpet and fresh flowers needed? It’s a bird book, perhaps I should leave bird food out on the front doorstep to welcome its arrival. Who knows? Maybe the USPS knows its content and will only allow the book to be delivered by an actual bird from Europe. I may have to wait until the spring migration. This of course brings up a very important question. Just what is the the air-speed velocity of an unladen European swallow? And what would be the air-speed of a European swallow ladened with my bird book? Perhaps a European white stork will be necessary to bring the bird book with a stork’s better carrying capacity. If I ever receive my bird book, I will let everyone know.
Saturday morning update: When I heard the mail come through the mail slot this morning, I went outside to see if the package was sitting on the doorstep. There was no package, but the mail carrier’s vehicle was in front of my house, so I waited for her to return. When she came back to the vehicle, I told her the story about the package. She said she was off on Friday, but she couldn’t understand why the other carrier wouldn’t leave the package. She said she leaves packages on my doorstep all the time. I nodded, laughed, and said I know, I’ve never had a problem. I told her I suspected that perhaps USPS might have the package, it had not gotten to the location where the actual carrier would have it. She asked if I had a USPS tracking number, and I said no, they only gave me a UPS one, which she agreed is useless to her. She promised that she would check with the Friday carrier and bring the book to me today if she could find it.
As I was typing this update, my doorbell rang, and it was my mail carrier with my package. I asked what happened. She said it was given to a different mail carrier, and it was supposed to be delivered today. I am not clear if it was given to a different mail carrier by mistake or design or what. I thanked her profusely and wished her a great weekend.
- The method of FedEx or UPS giving a package to USPS for the final leg is a great idea and obviously saves money, but if they don’t give you a tracking number for the USPS leg, it is impossible to find out what happened or where your package is.
- Amazon, UPS, and USPS have horrible customer service when it comes to this delivery method.
- UPS and Amazon just plain lied. I don’t know if UPS told Amazon they couldn’t leave the package unattended, which would be stupid since they were not supposed to be the one leaving the package, or if Amazon just made up that nonsense when they got some sort of notification that the package was not delivered as guaranteed.
- If Amazon is going to continue guaranteeing two day Amazon Prime delivery with this delivery method than they better figure out what went wrong, especially if what my mail carrier is true that the package was not supposed to be delivered until today.
- Amazon makes it dang near impossible to figure out as an Amazon Prime customer what I get if they do not fulfill their two day delivery promise. They’re website says they will refund shipping costs if they don’t deliver as guaranteed, but I am still trying to figure out what an Amazon Prime customer gets. Oh good, I get to deal with their customer service again.
- I have a very nice USPS carrier, who by far gave much better customer service than Amazon or UPS.
Saturday afternoon update: I have back from Amazon customer service based on my blog post. The Amazon customer service rep yesterday gave me a $10 promotional credit to compensate for the missed delivery. Amazon responded to my tweet and asked me to submit comments by following a link. I did this and simply gave the blog post link. This second customer service rep also extended my Amazon Prime membership by a month. Conclusion: It pays to complain and complain in a public manner.
I haven’t even had time to build the warbler section of my bird page. It is going to take a long time to get it fully built. However, I photographed a bird today that I wanted to get the photos posted quickly though. While driving back from a birding trip in south Texas, we stopped at a rest area on 281 near Falfurrias. I walked around with my camera thinking I might photograph a few titmice or something. I did get them, but I was stunned to see two beautiful birds that I have never seen before. I saw painted redstarts! They are not supposed to be in that area or even Texas, especially this time of year. I saw a life bird at a nice little roadside rest area. You just never know what kind of bird you are going to see when you look.