Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

With all of us caught in the middle of the holiday madness, some of us enjoy the opportunity to sample seasonal beers.

So, have you even wondered what was really in those beers besides yeasts and other goodies? You can read it all here. As a guy with a chem minor, I was really digging this article. A hat-tip to Rosemary for passing it along.

In the meantime, make the best of your Holidays! Don't waste your time leaving Santa cookies and milk. At my house, he gets a nice, dark porter. I have a few hours to figure out which one he gets...


Friday, December 19, 2008

#521 and #522

In the last week or so, I managed two new beers. They are still a part of the "party stash." I am getting behind in other projects, so I am just now getting around to telling you about 'em!

Olde 22 (#521) from the Arbor Brewing Company was a total winner. The color was that warm, deep brown pushing black. Awesome. After the pour, the head was easily 3 fingers deep and thick like mirangue. The carbonation and body were in perfect balance with the malty/roasty tones. The finish was a bit dry, but not in a bad way. A very well done beer. Bring a six-pack of this stuff to party and you will be a hero. 5 out of 5.

#522 was a gift from Discount Drinks, one of the premier beer places Downriver. When I was buying stuff for my November party, he gave me a bottle for free! Ya can't beat that! It was an Oktober Fest-Marzen from the Brauerei Aying in Germany. All in all, very average. The off-white head was another thick one (3+ fingers) while the body was amber. Medium body. Dry finish. Not a disappointing beer by any means. Just average. 3 out of 3.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dumplings, Bilingual Skills, and Mustard Gas

Lager Steamed Thai Turkey and Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings in a Pale Ale Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce.

Quite a mouthful, huh? Yeah, I thought so, too. That is why I decided to cook it. The more impressive the title, the better the meal, right? It is kind of like when I buy wine - if the label looks cool (ie: a bird or a bug), I buy it. So, knowing I had a Christmas party for work, I figured it would be the perfect chance for me to poison my co-workers with undercooked poultry...ummm, I mean....try a new recipe and gets lots of feedback.

So, a few days back, I got a new cook book - "The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing and Cooking with Craft Beer". You can order it here. The recipes are great. (On a negative note, however, the binding of the book is a bit weak. It has already given way. If I am not careful, pages will be falling out soon.)

The recipe consisted of three basic parts - the dumplings, the dipping sauce, and the steaming liquid. Of the three, the dipping sauce was the easiest. Very easy in fact. Chili Sauce, beer (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), sugar, soy sauce, etc. Piece of cake.

The dumplings? Well, a bit more of a challenge. Peppers, cumin, Shiitake mushrooms, etc. Nothing crazy there. But wonton wrappers? What the world is a wonton wrapper? After checking various local stores, I came to the conclusion that I may not get to make this recipe if I can't find these things. A last minute search online (thanks Al Gore!) helped me located a small asian market in Dearborn. Fortunately, my GPS was right on the money. Tucked away in a little shopping complex, was the Zhongshan Oriental Grocery. Perfect. In 10 seconds, I had my wonton wrappers.

I also thought this would be a good chance to square away some confusion about the recipe. At no point does it say "cook the turkey and stuff the wrapper". Was I to believe that the 20-minute steaming would cook the raw turkey? So, I spoke to the charming asian woman behind the counter.
"Excuse me. I have a question about a recipe I am going to try. Can you help?"
She nods
"I need to steam these dumplings. But the recipe doesn't say anything about cooking the turkey beforehand. That can't be right. I have to cook the turkey before I stuff the wrapper, right?
She looked at me like I insulted her family. "No. Row. Row" she said with a harsh chinese accent.
"Row? No, I walked here. I need to know if I cook the turkey before I stuff the wrapper?"
"Row! Row!"
Realizing we where dealing with a language barrier, I decided I needed to start speaking chinese. Yes, folks, I know chinese. It's simple - speak English slower and louder with lots of hand gestures:
"I (pointing to myself)...NEED...TO...STUFF (fingers from hands into the palm of the other)...THE WRAPPER (pointing to the wrappers)...WITH ....TURKEY (no, I didn't put my hands under my armpits and flap my elbows, but in hindsight, I should have)... DO I...COOK...THE TURKEY FIRST?"
"Row! Row! Steeeeeeemm....cooooooook...turkey. Steam."
"Oh! Raw! Raw! Stuff the wrappers with raw turkey?"
"Ya. Row! Row!"
"Ah, cool "
"Egg. Egg on wrapper. Wrapper stick"
"Huh? The recipe doesn't say anything about eggs?"
"Egg. Wrapper stick. Egg on edge."
"Ahh. EGGS...MAKE...WRAPPER...STICK?"
"Ya. Eggs. Stick."
"Ahh. I get it. Merci."

So, after Thursday's cultural experience, I got up a bit early Friday to tackle the dumplings. Each batch needed to be steamed for 20 minutes and I could only do 8 at a time in my steamer. The steaming liquid was basically beer (Yeah!), lime, garlic, and not one, but two serrano peppers (perhaps five times hotter than a jalepeno but, only one-fifth as a hot as a habernaro). The beer, by the way, was Sam Adams Boston Lager.

When steaming, it is very important that the steaming liquid volume is maintained. If it steams, you are losing liquid, right? So, you watch it, and if it looks low, you add more. Crack another beer and dump it in. Easy, right? Yes, it was.

For the most part.

I tested one of the dumplings to make sure everything was good. After a few minutes, my eyes started to get watery. Breathing was getting harder with a little of wheezing. My chest was tightening. I thought - "Holy crap, I'm just ate a poison dumpling. I'm having an allergic reaction here....I'm going to die of anaphalaxis ..." I glanced on the stove. The steam was not so much steam as it was a fine smoke. Yup, the beer was gone and my nuclear serrano peppers were now frying in the pot. I had just created the culinary equivalent of Mustard Gas. Fortunately, no blisters or vomiting. While my kitchen was not quite like the scene of a World War I battlefield (pictured here), I think you get the point. Even if it was below freezing, the doorwall had to be opened and the pot filled with water. Pronto. Before too long, the smell and haze dissipated (somewhat...) and breathing returned to normal. Note to self - don't EVER run out of liquid when steaming with peppers.

All that said, I should probably tell you about the dumplings. They were fantastic. Time consuming, yes, but very good. Alot of people complimented me on them. Plus, the dipping sauce could be used for other things to, I suspect. Good stuff.

Cooking. Always an adventure...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

#520

You've seen 'em - scarecrows in fields? They scare away the birds so they don't eat the crops? Don't let the scarecrow on the bottle of Dundee Oktoberfest (#520) scare you off. Another Marzen style beer, this one is from the High Falls Brewing Company, and is hardly scary. Not award winning, but certainly not scary.

As one might expect, the color was the wonderful brown/orange (amber) color. After the pour, the head (an light tan colored) lingered a bit leaving a slight lacing on the glass. Caramel and sweetness where certainly noted in the aroma while the palate was a bit more complicated. Medium bodied and malty, for sure, but beyond that? I dunno...maybe more caramel? A tiny bit of hops could be detected at the finish.

Easily, a three out of five. Watch for it next year! Don't be scared.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

#519

Wow. I have some catching up to do. A few weeks back, I had a party and bought some beer (Me? Buy beer? Shocking!). It was my intention to sample those beers, but I never got around to it. I was in Texas, I have been busy with this, that, and other thing. On top of that, I found a 12-pack of seasonal (winter) Sam Adams beers. So, needless to say, I am backed up a bit. At least eight new beers await me in the fridge. Many are autumn beers.

So tonight, I cracked open Punkin Ale (note the spelling) from the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. You may recall I have had their beer before. I am at the point now where I almost anticipate trying a new beer from them. "Punk", as it is known, is no exception to their brewing history. They know what they are doing.

They claim it is a full-bodied brown ale with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Right from the get-go, you know you are getting something cool. The key? Real pumpkin. Oh sure, alot of places call their beers pumpkin ales, but they don't really contain pumpkins. Seasonal spices, yes, but not real pumpkins. As I understand it(take that with salt...what do I know?), pumpkin is hard to brew with, so alot of places dont really do it.

On the pour, the body was a light colored brownish orange (go figure - a brown ale with pumpkin turns out brown orange! No way!). The head, which was a light tan, was not one finger high and disappeared rather quickly, but the lacing was good. The body was certainly full, as they said, but a bit malty. Not bad or overpowering, mind you, but malty for sure. A strong suggestion of sweetness was there too, but I think it was more of a caramel sweetness. On the finish, the sweetness seemed to transform...I'm not sure how that happened but it did. As one would expect with an ale, a bitterness was present as well. I think the sweetness gave way to the bitterness.

Interestingly enough, I honestly can't tell you exactly when I tasted the pumpkin. Go figure.

Life beer #519 clearly gets a 4 out of 5. Pretty good stuff.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

10 Years

10 years is a long time. Two-and-a-half Presidential terms. Maybe loads of post graduate work. The time it will take the Detroit Lions to re-build.

So, it was quite a joy to finally do something I have been talking about for 10 years (at least) - make a November road-trip to Muskegon for Purple Sandpiper. Oh, I'm sure my friends got rather tired of me mentioning it - "Maybe over Thanksgiving I will take a day and head over to Muskegon and get a Purple Sandpiper." The following year: "I think I gonna head over to Muskegon for Purple Sandpiper. I need it for my state list", only to be followed by "Yeah, this is the year I'm gonna do it...no really..."

The Purple Sandpiper is a dumpy little shorebird that breeds on Arctic Canada. It often winters along the rocky shorelines of the Atlantic. But they can be found "locally", too. So, on the Great Lakes, one should check rocky shorelines in late November and December for a large and stout shorebird with pumpkin-orange legs.

One problem - rocky shorelines, on Lake Erie, in Michigan are few and far between. So, many observers do what I did: head to the rocky jetties of Lake Michigan instead.

So, at some stupid hour of the morning on Saturday, Natalie, my birding partner-in-crime and I took off. After the 3 1/2 hour drive, we found ourselves walking the south jetty (a known location for Purples in the past few days). Fortunately, the weather was perfect. Temps in the high 30's or low 40's. No ice covered rocks. No blistering cold winds cutting you to ribbons. Nice...I mean nice November weather.

Our first good bird there was the Harlequin Duck (another bird that favors rocky shorelines). While drakes (males) are really stunners, we had to "settle" for this female. It was a new bird for Natalie.

Within a few short minutes, we were looking at not one, but two, Purple Sandpipers. Amazingly tame, they just stood there. One was feeding a bit, but the first one stood there like a statue. At a distance of less than 30 feet, it filled the scope view. Unbelievable. A state bird for me (#334, but who is counting?!) and a life bird for Natalie.

It was at this point, we decided we should go back and get our cameras (in a sense, we were scouting the jetty as we had never been there before). Knowing the first Sandpiper was in PERFECT lighting and very close to us, I was eager to give it a go. Well, you know what is going to happen next, right? By the time we got our gear and returned, the little turd disappeared. Totally gone. Perhaps it took some lessons from my Tropical Parula in Texas. So, the best I could manage was this photo of the second bird. Lighting was awful, but hey, you can tell it is a Purple Sandpiper, so cut me slack!

After a quick lunch, a few hours was spent at a birder's dream location - the Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant. While you can get all the facts here, the basic idea is this: thousands of acres of prime bird habitat. Many good birds have shown up here over the years, so it is always worth a try to get there now and then (says the guy who was there for the first time ever...).

Thousands of geese where in the area, but we failed to turn up the Ross's Goose that had been reported in area. No Northern Shrike either. Hmmmm...no luck on our part. We did see a Glaucous Gull (new for Natalie) but we had to have other birders show us that one (thanks Chip and Phil!).

But what about that Snowy Owl that had been reported in the area the day before? Well, we looked. The buildings. The power poles. The irrigation equipment. A random post in the ground. We checked 'em all. They will sit ANYWHERE. But, on this day with no snow flying and no snow on the ground, that white lump in the field certainly needed another look. Bingo! While the bird was approximately 1 million miles away, a scope cleared things up quite a bit. Yes, the little white spot in the photo is the bird. With even 1" of snow, I am sure we would not have seen it.

After some more cruising, we returned to find the owl had moved a bit closer. While viewing it, that Ross's Goose showed up. Sweet! Unfortunately, the Short-eared Owl stakeout near the model airplane field was a bust. No owls at dusk.

So, lets recap - after a long drive, we saw a duck, a dumpy shorebird, an arctic sky rat, a boreal crap factory (the Goose), and of course, the Snowy Owl (no joke names for such a majestic bird). Sure there were other birds, but this group takes the cake.

Plowing into the deer on the way home was NOT a nice way to end an otherwise nice day. Somewhere east of Muskegon, on a two-lane road, two deer appeared on the shoulder. I saw them both. One bolted and successfully crossed the road. The other tried, then stopped, and tried again. That little stutterstep probably saved us a lot of grief. I basically wacked it in the head with my car. The sound of striking a deer, by the way, is awful. After pulling over and making sure we were good, I got out and checked the car. Not a scratch. A few hundred feet up the road was the deer. Dead. It died, but no damage to the car. Not even an airbag deployment. Wow. (In fact, I am worried about the airbag. I feel it should have fired. I will need to talk to my dealership about that!)

So, lets recap again - after a long drive, we saw a duck, a dumpy shorebird, an arctic sky rat, a boreal crap factory (the Goose), and of course, the Snowy Owl. On the way home, I ran over Bambi.

Certainly a fine day. Well worth the 10 year wait.

Welcome to the world of birding, Natalie!

-----------------------------------------
Addendum - I forgot to mention the Snowy Owl was a first for Natalie, too. She was reeeaaallly hoping to see it well enough to make out the yellow eyes, but it didn't quite happen. Perhaps the next one will be more cooperative!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Home By Lunch

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

For all intents and purposes, my trip was over when I finished my afterdinner coffee. The only remaining technicality was to get to the airport for my flight out at dark-thirty in the morning. I was home in metro-Detroit by 1:00pm.

All in all, the trip was exactly what is was supposed to be: fulfilling, fun, frantic, and fast-paced (for some of it anyway).

Oh wait, this is supposed to be a blog built around the letter "B". Okay, well, it was beautiful and busy. The birds (like the Chachalacas) were boisterous while the beverages were everything from bland (Bud) to bold (the Chimay). The flowers were beautiful (and even found in the occasional bowl!) and bugs boldly patterned. I could babble, but I'd better not...

Okay, a bit more. My lists, for those of you that care -
Life list (birds) - 625
Life list (beer) - 518
Texas list (life)- 273
Texas list (trip) - 95
2008 birds - 338
2008 life birds - 23
2008 Texas birds - 208

Okay, I'm done. I think......

Fauna And Flora

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

After another super breakfast at the Menger (Eggs Sardu!), I opted to head over to the San Antonio Zoo as a solo trip (mom and dad were relaxing while Becka, well, she slept in a bit). After the bus boondoggle that killed an hour (the bus was running the wrong route!), I made it. As a former zoo guy (this is going back a few years), I am always good to wander a zoo now and then. I found it a wonderful place to practice some photography. Alot of professional recommend such a thing. I will never be a professional, but I can see their point. The Bateleur shown here was about as cool as they get!

My hot dog and chips lunch was nothing more than an attempt to hold me over until dinner. Becka made arrangements for dinner at Bohanan's, a premiere steakhouse in San Antonio. Huge steaks, a splendid wine and beer list, and rose petals on the tables and in the toilet bowls. Yup, the crapper, folks. The picture is the real deal. Not faked in any way.

The quail stuffed with rice and shitaki mushrooms was extraordinary. I played it conservative with the beer and order a Chimay Tripel. You can't wrong with that for fine dining. It was on tap, for Pete's sake! But, I almost ordered another beer that was also on tap. The name slips my mind at this point, but the cost of $80.00 per glass was enough to make anyone think twice. Of course, I admit, if I did not run up a triple digit bar tab howling at the moon, I would likely have ordered it. Not many people can say they drank an $80 beer. (Of course, not many people WANT to drink an $80 beer!). The after-dinner coffee was an organic Galapogos Island Estate coffee. I really have no idea what the details are behind this coffee but it was pretty good. If nothing else, it sounds impressive, huh? Perhaps some of my coffee friends can enlighten me.

Rebecca's Big Day

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Recognizing hours needed to be killed before the afternoon's big event, my parents and I had breakfast at what can only be described as the second coolest place in San Antonio (after the Alamo): the Menger Hotel. While built in 1859, it still functions as a high-end hotel in town. In the past, I have been there for breakfast so I knew I had to get back. The Eggs Sardu (poached eggs with spinach and artichoke hearts on a muffin) were simply awesome. After breakfast, I used the time for some shots on the grounds of the Alamo. Still mighty damned chilly!

By 3:30, everyone had assembled at the Alamo again. Sure, the birds, the beers, and the battlefields were cool, but that was a side-trip (a very cool, very fun side trip, but a side-trip nonetheless). The real reason for coming down was to see my sister officially retire from the United States Air Force.

Beginning in 1988, her travels took her from California, to Texas, back to California, down to Arizona, up to Alaska, back to Texas, across the oceans to Iraq, and then back to Texas. That's 20 total years spread out over 6 duty stations, including a war zone. During that time, she managed to earn her Master's Degree as a Perinatal Nurse Practioner, and knock off some research papers and even write a few book chapters. As if that wasn't enough, over time, she became a nationally known expert in fetal monitoring, legal issues, and high risk conditions during pregnancy. Along the way? Multiple awards and honors, including nine military decorations.

It wasn't until the Colonel spoke that I truly, after 20 years, understood the magnitude of what Rebecca had done. I don't recall the exact words, but she basically said that Rebecca's work will be a part of Air Force nursing for the coming decades. Decades, folks. Very cool. Some nurse in the year 2067 will be following protocols that my sister established. A lawyer in 2052 may use a case that my sister testified in as legal weight during a trial. For some of us, working for "the now" is cool. But, for some, working for future generations is important, too. When your "now" work helps future generations do their job better, that strikes me as the best of both worlds. (The same Colonel pulled me aside later and basically "Brag about your sister's work!" She meant every word of it.)

We are all very proud of you Rebecca! Thanks for the flag, too!


After a quiet dinner reception back the hotel (where conversation constantly hovered around labor and delivery...gee, I wonder why!), alot of us (including many of my sister's nursing crew) headed off to Howl At The Moon, a dueling piano bar on the Riverwalk. Yes, people, I partied with a bunch of nurses. All urban legends are apparently true. Yes, photos exist of the evening, but you won't see them here. Careers are on the line...theirs,not mine! Okay, it wasn't that crazy, but, yet, it was nutty, yes, photos were taken, and no, you won't see them. To the best of my knowledge, there were no fatalities.

Battlefields X 2

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The morning of the 20th (my final day in the Valley) was a morning of frustration. I had noticed the sunrises were awesome every morning. However, I had made birding my priority so I didn't do much with landscape photography. I opted to head further east to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site outside of Brownsville. Open ground. Great light at sunrise. Cannon and flags for subjects. Could be cool, huh?

Well, it would have been cool, I'm sure, if the place was open! I was there by 7:15am, but they didn't open the park until 8am! Now, a lot of parks like this ARE open at sunrise, where it is visitor center that is closed. Not the case here, apparently. So, I was literally stuck at gate until someone came to open up. Unfortunately, there were no photo-ops from the gate.

The open, flat ground was perfect for an artilerry duel and that is exactly what happened on May 8th, 1846. In short, the Americans shot the Mexicans to pieces in the opening phases of the Mexican War. This two-year engagement helped to shape the history of the United States. It also helped to shape the list of birders! Without a victory in this war, much of the United State as we know it (New Mexico, Texas, and California) would quite possibly have remained northern Mexico!

I also hoped to snap a few photos of the White-tailed Kites I knew would be there. They were, but I wasn't ready for them (I was geared for landscape stuff with my small lense). I did the best I could before they flew off. I did get to see a Northern Harrier/Kite dogfight. Despite being heavier and larger, the Harrier out-flew the kite, hands down. Very cool to see.

After some battlefield putzing, I needed to head north to San Antonio. After my arrival back at the airport (4 hours), I met up with my sister, Rebecca, and my parents, who had just arrived on their flight from Detroit. After getting settled into the La Mansion Del Rio (where I had a great room with quite a view), Becka left to take care of business, while the rest of us went out to dinner.

Pesca on the River is just not what I thought it would be. Sure, the place was nice. Sure, the staff was great. Sure, the food was good. But, yes, it was all more expensive than it should have been. Sorry folks, that is just the way it is. The beer, Fireman #4 (#518), from the Real Ale Brewing Company, in Plano, Texas, was a spectacularly average attempt at a blonde ale. I thought it was a pilsner, it was so light.

The Alamo, a hop, skip and jump from the Riverwalk, proved to be fun for some night photography. Despite temps in the low 40's, we did it anyway. There it stood. THE symbol of Texas and her independence -the place where Jim Bowie, William B. Travis and John Wayne died so Texas could be free. Contrary to thoughts of many, most of the existing Alamo is not original to the 1836 siege (including the top part of the chapel's front wall!). Nevertheless, for a history guy, just seeing such an iconic peice of history right before you is awesome, even if it is a lot smaller than most people realize.

Just A Fun Day

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

I found myself back at Estero again at sunrise. I was going to find that Parula or die trying. As I was heading back to the location I had heard it the day before, I noticed a lot of activity in a tree. While there were lots of fruiting trees in the area, this tree had no fruit. Yet, there was a lemon in it. But lemons don't fly from branch to branch. Hmmmmm. This lemon had wing bars and a dark head. Follow that lemon! Within moments, I was soaking in crippling views of life bird #625: Tropical Parula! It was only 7:10am. I had the whole day ahead of me!

I immediately shot over to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge with the hopes of Hook-billed Kite. The 45-foot observation tower seemed like an ideal place. Red-tailed Hawk. Check. Mutiple Harris's Hawks. Check. Gray Hawk (again!) Check. Turkey Vultures galore, but no kites. During this time, a Harris's Hawk was perched hundreds of yards out. For whatever reason, it decided the snag 100 feet from the observation tower was a better perch. It flew over and parked there. While a dark bird on a light background is not ideal for my photographic skills, I think I managed. You decide.

By lunch time, I was starving and made my way to Jack in the Box. Why, oh why, don't we have them here?! From there, I shot down to Bentson Rio Grande State Park. Some casual walking turned up Altamira Oriole and a pair of Gray Hawks (again!). I also found the grounds at the Headquarters very pleasant. While not particularly big, the landscaping attracts butterflies the likes of which one will never in Michigan. I could walk there all day. How you could you not like a Zebra Heliconian?!

I made my way to Anzalduas County Park with the hopes of securing Hook-billed Kite. They were seen there, too, but not by me. For my one hour of birding before sunset, the best I could manage was a Vermillion Flycatcher. But, I am not complaining!

Dinner was at the El Dorado. It is literally right across the street from the Alamo Inn. You can't go wrong here.

One For Two

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Internet reports suggested two big ticket birds could be found at Estero Llano Grande State Park: Rose-throated Becard and Tropical Parula. I was there at 7am, but the Park itself was closed until 8am. Without access to the park proper (and not really knowing where to go to find the key birds), I just started to blunder around looking for anything until I could get some direction from staff.

Around 8am, I bumped in John Yochum, a new addition to the Park staff and a former Midwestern guy. It turns out I was blundering around in exactly the right spot for both birds. John's situation was truly a sad one. He was still in his first week at Estero but there were some technical details that still needed to be addressed. So, he was working, but he couldn't work. Basically, his boss siad he could just bird al day and help visitors (like me!) find the birds. Wow. How awful. Birding all day and getting paid for it. My heart bleeds for him.

One peach of a bird was the Black-throated Magpie Jay. Normally found in Mexico, this bird had been at Estero for quite a few weeks. All indications suggest it did not get there on its own, but it can certainly whet one's appetite for more tropical birding. By 10:30, we had located the Rose-throated Becard(#624). By that time, over half a dozen people where looking for it, so it was certainly a case of "the more eyes the better".

On the way back to the Visitors Center for a drink, we both heard it: that high rising buzzy zip. If I had been standing in Michigan, I would say "Northern Parula", but I was not in Michigan, of course. Down there, in winter, a Parula needs to be checked. It could be the Tropical instead. Knowing that a Tropical had been in the area, we stopped dead in our tracks. Somehow, even though it was only 30 feet away, it evaporated. Gone. Poof. Just like that. No looks at all. Just that agonizing thought that life bird #625, and key bird for the trip, had slipped into a wormhole and vanished forever.

After investing even more time with no return, I opted to head to Quinta Matzalan. TWO Tropical Parulas had been reported in previous days. After about an hour, I realized I should probably head back to Estero. That was the place to be. At least we heard was what probably the bird.

I stayed until sundown. I got a second look at the Becard (unfortunately, despite being a flycatcher, they don't seem to like perching in the open). I also nabbed a Black-throated Gray Warbler that had been on the property - thats a tough bird in Texas. Earlier in the day, a Cinnamon Teal was on the pond, so the day was rather productive overall. The mosquitoes chased me out before sunset. I had put on shorts to beat the heat.

Dinner was at BJ's Brewhouse. I had bumbled into this place when I was in the Valley in June. Two new beers for the ole list - Harvest Hefeweizen (#516) and the Nutty Brewnette (#517). The Hefe was a solid 4 out of 5, but that Brown was a 3. That said, however, it would have paired nicely with the spinach and artichoke heart pizza.

The night was at the Alamo Inn. I stayed there in June and I say again - if you are a birder and you stay in the Rio Grande Valley, stay here. Great accomodations and super prices for the travelling birder.

These Boots Were Made For Walkin'...(all day, in circles)

Monday, November 17th, 2008

I was easily on the road before sunrise which was very good as I had a solid two hours of driving to get to Zapata. The final hour of the drive was during sunrise. Sunrise in south Texas is an awesome thing.

Why Zapata? As fate would have it, the grasssd behind the Library are one of the most reliable places for White-collared Seedeater in the United States. San Ygnacio was basically underwater and sites in Laredo are simply not as good. All sources told me to go to Zapata. Walk around the pond, check the grasses and, with a bit of luck, you should get one.

After a chilly start, I easily walked 12 laps around the pond over 6 hours (the trial around the pond is a good one-third of a mile). No luck. I had Orange-crowned Warblers out my wazoo and I was beginning to know the Lincoln's Sparrows by name (Abe was always the most obliging), but no seedeaters. Not one. It only takes one, but it didn't happen.

For my efforts, I did get an Audubon's Oriole. That was another target bird of the trip. #622. I had another spot for them, but it is always nice to get something sooner than expecetd.

So, after some thought and need for a change in scenery, I sped off to the feeder station at Salineno. Basically, some kind folks live in a RV a few hundred feet off the Rio Grande River and let you check out the birds at the feeder. It was also a great place for a river watch. Who knows what can zip past you on the Rio Grande. Green Kingfishers were tooling around, but Muscovy were not to be had. Gray Hawk zipped down the shoreline. I was treated toa fly-by of a Red-billed Pigeon (#623), a very tough bird to get in the fall (so the books say), but some had been seen in the area for a few days. Also, another Audubon's Oriole was very accommodating. I was prepared to hang there until I could no longer see, but a fellow, his son (maybe eight years old?) and thier gun was enough to make me move along before sunset.

Big decision time. Option #1 - Head back to Zapata for the night and spend more time tomorrow looking for seedeaters. Option #2 - Screw the seedeaters and move along.

Option #2 was it. I spent the night in Mission. Dinner was at Pizza Hut where I pondered how it is that Budweiser ever became the King of Beers...

I'll See You On The Beach

I had the opportunity to travel again to Texas this year. Even though I had great success in June, I missed some birds and hoped to jack up my Texas list a bird. The purpose of the trip, however, had nothing to do with birds, really. It was family stuff, but more on that later. So, in the grand tradition of a birder, I accidently took extra time off of work, accidently flew to Texas a few days days early, and accidently birded the Rio Grande Valley before I met up with family in San Antonio.

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

My Northwest flight left at some stupid hour of the morning. Breakfast was in Memphis and helped to establish why I don’t usually do Starbuc
ks. I paid 1.8 million dollars for a bagel and coffee and they couldn’t even toast the bagel! What the hell! Once airborne, I had the chance to really dip into “Sky Mall.” You know it. That crazy sales magazine that is crammed in the seat pouch? Where do they get that stupid stuff? It was a toss-up between the ultra-sonic eyeglass cleaner or the toaster that toasts hot dogs and buns. Who buys that crap? Worse yet, what a waste of brainpower designing it...

Even after the layover in Tennessee, I was in my rental car and on the road by about 12:30 (the flight was actually 20 minutes early!). My first stop was NOT the Rio Grande Valley as I was originally planning in the weeks before leaving. Instead of heading 4 hours south, I shot four hours east to the beach at Quintana Jetty, south of Houston. The target bird was a gull. Yes, folks, I drove 4 hours out of my way for a gull. But not just any gull. A Kelp Gull, a rare north American wanderer (A Code 4 for ABA folks) from various locations across the Southern Hemisphere (in this case, likely South America). For whatever reason, it decided to hang out on the beach south of the jetty, especially at sundown. Perfect timing.

Surprisingly, no other birders were on the beach. I eventually found Mark, a photographer who had taken some stunning photos of the bird. He was certain the bird would be on the beach by sundown. We talked shop the while birds were slowly coming in to roost. His camera was rig was huge. I think he was field testing a second generation Hubble Telescope, but he swore it was only a 500mm rig with a 1.4 extender. I still don’t believe him. More gulls were coming into the beach behind us, backlit by the sun. The sanderlings were just too cooperative to pass up. They were basically at our feet. Those back lit gulls were not. There was even a Franklin’s Gull in front of us, too. That was a state bird for me. More gulls flew in behind us. Finally, the day was slipping to night quickly. “Ya know, Mark, I think I am going to check these gulls behind us. I will walk up the beach and look back so the sun it to my back and see what I can get.” There it sat. The Kelp Gull. Life bird #621. Who knows how long it was sitting there.

While waiting for the Kelp Gull to show, I managed a photo of a Sanderling. They are just so damned photogenic. I wish we could get this close to shorebirds in Michigan!

With a key bird secured for the trip and photographed, I immediately left when the sun was gone. My evening meal was the Dinner of Champions - Funyons and a Coke. I made Kingsville. I was hoping to get all the way to Zapata, but exhaustion said otherwise.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Leavin' On A Jet Plane

If all goes well, as you read this, I will be on my way to Texas! Again!

Birding time? Yup. Perhaps the Kelp Gull. Hopefully, White-collared Seedeater, too.

Family time? Yup? My parents will eventually meet me there so we can attend my sister's retirement party. Guess where! The Alamo. I will be on the lookout for Pee Wee's bike in the basement.

A few new beers? What would a vacation be without at least one new brew?

I am not sure that I will blog when I am there. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I will return in a week and tell you all about it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

#514 and #515

Gout is a peculiar disease. As a result of an inherited abnormality, crystals of uric acid, in the form of mono-sodium urate, develop in joints, tendons and surrounding tissues leading to inflammation and severe, if not debilitating, pain. In other words, your parents gave you crappy genes and your body goofs up. You get little, sharp, pointy thingies in your toes, knees , ankles, and elbows. It hurts really bad.

A famous(?) victim of gout was Anthony Wayne, Revolutionary War hero.
He died in 1796. Some may know him as “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Apparently, a bayonet charge in the dark, holding out for reinforcements in the face of a numerically superior enemy, and a firebrand of a personality led to the cool, but simple, nickname. So, the Erie Brewing Company thought it would be nice to name a beer after him - Mad Anthony’s American Pale Ale. They think that “…he might approve of it despite his revolutionary tendencies…”

Well, if “Mad” is actually their way of somehow suggesting “great”, they just as easily could have called it “Moderately Ticked Wayne American Pale Ale.”
My 514th beer was a very average beer, but a nice way to compliment my dinner last night.

The head was, at no point, any thicker than about a quarter of an inch. The overall color was certainly off, too. I was expecting a deep straw yellow or something but it suggested to me a bit of a brownness (I’ll let your imagination run with that one). The lacing on the glass was weak, but evident, while the aroma was a bit of a malty sweetness. Not bad, really. All in all, the malt and hop combo on the palate was a nice balance and the carbonation didn’t blow it. The finish was not bitter, but a biting sort of bitter (but remember, it is an ale, so bitterness is to be expected). In any case, it was a bit much for my tastes. Nothing crazy here, overall. It was, well, average (moderate?). 3 out of 5…maybe.

Tonight’s brew?
Pumpkin Ale(#515) from the Buffalo Bill Brewery in California.

Well, we have to consider that the uric acids that killed Wayne
were properly balanced with water and present in this beer.

Yup, folks, it tasted like piss.

The brewery describes the beer as “A pumpkin pie in a bottle”.
I just don’t think so. Perhaps if the pumpkin was one of those that people carve for Halloween and leave on the front porch until Memorial Day! On the pour, the head lasted approximately 0.0092 seconds; basically, as fast as you can say “fizz-done”. What a letdown. The spices, which I assume were cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, were junk. It was more like, perhaps, dirt, dust-bunnies, and bellybutton lint. The finish was not hoppy-bitter, but nasty-bitter. Ugh. Totally gross. 1 out of 5.

After two slugs, I dumped it down the drain. Any that are left over from my party and still in my fridge will suffer the same fate.
If I find bizarre little crystals in my kitchen sink’s plumbing, especially right around the elbows, I know where they came from.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

#513

Last night, I finally got around to officially critiquing the Harvest Ale from Founder's Brewing Company. While I could go into super incredible detail, I could easily sum it up with one word:

Fantastic.

Okay, I'll go into some detail.

On the pour, cloudy straw color was obvious. In fact, some little chucks were very noticeable. No big deal. After the 2-finger head died back a bit, the lacing on the glass was quite nice. It lingered even more after after I swirled it a bit to kick out some aromas. Hops for sure, with some solid floral tones and a bit of sweetness. All of that continued with the first slug. The hops were all fine and balanced while the overall feel was perfect. Not too watery. Not too thick. The hoppy finish was dry. A super beer.

5 out of 5.

While all of this is fine and good, one thing should be noted. I am not really a giant "ale guy" or "hop head." While I certainly could get a good appreciation for the overall taste and fine balance, if I saw something else on a menu or a different 6-pack at the party store, I would get it.

So many beers, so little time.....

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tough Decision...Again

Every once in a while, a story comes along that simply forces you to stop and think. It forces you to think about your day, about your decisions and how you conduct yourself.

Tonight, while eating dinner, I was watching the news (something I do quite regularly). There was a story about this fellow, Nick, who had a birth defect that has been a complication his entire life. While there is a fancy name for the condition, it really doesn't matter here. Basically, a thick web of flesh and nerves ran down the back of his legs. They could not be straightened. He "walked" with extreme difficulty...he basically couldn't. His life was more or less going to be spent in a wheel chair. It finally reached the point where Nick made a very tough decision - take the leg off.

After the amputation, months went by. Despite the prosthesis and excellent care, he was still having trouble - with his other leg. So, Nick made a decision that few people could ever make. He told the doctors to take the other leg. So they did. Soon, he will have to learn to handle not one, but two, artificial limbs.

Oh, by the way, Nick is 10 years old.

If more adults could show the same degree of poise and maturity as this young man, the world would certainly be a better place.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Did My Part

I did my thing today. Voting. Ya gotta do it. People have literally died so we can do it. Ya gotta do it. If you didn't, shame on you.

Fortunately for me, it was a breeze. After work, I hustled over to my precinct expecting quite a line. There was none to be had. I literally walked right in, sat down with my sheet, filled in the dots (scantrons all over again!), and fed the machine. Done. I didn't time it, but it could not have been more than 10 minutes.

According to the clerks that were there, my precinct has about 1,500 people. By the time I had arrived at 5:15, over 700 had votes. 50% turn out. Kinda sad if you ask me. It should be higher.

The news tonight was talking about how some places are giving away little freebies is you show them your "I voted" sticker. Maybe some ice cream from Ben and Jerry's, for example. At the donut shop, the reporter commented that it would be inappropriate to ask people who they voted for, so he was asking them if they got a donut from the left side or the right side of case.

I won't tell you who I voted for, but I assure you, my donut is not some stale, old moldy thing ...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cackling Goose

A few years back, scientists took the all the different races (there are quite a few) that comprise the species Canada Goose and separated them into TWO species: Canada Goose and Cackling Goose (go here if you want to know more). Yeah, you know the ones that make a mess in all the parks and golf courses? You know the ones that taste really good when pan-seared in olive oil with lots of salt and pepper? So, from a listing standpoint, birders now have to pay attention to all the hoards of geese with the hopes of finding the ones that are slightly different.

If you have been a regular reader here, you know Walt spends most of his time birding in Wayne and northern Monroe Counties. He doesn't go much beyond that. In conversations past, we had been talking about Canada Geese (okay, birders do these sorts of things). So anyhow, I mentioned to him that I still needed a Cackling Goose for my Wayne County list. He confidently told me that Washago Pond at Willow Metropark would be the place in the fall. He said to pay extra attention when the birds are in with the orange neck bands. The Cacklers wont' have the neck band, but they will be hanging out with them.

So yesterday, I got a call from Walt. At Washago Pond, as predicted, was a Cackling Goose. While my photo is simply rotten (the bird was quite a ways away), you can already see an important trait - tiny, tiny, tiny. Cackling Geese are basically the size of a Mallard Duck. There were Mallards present for comparison. Unfortunately, the photo of the bird prevents you from seeing another key mark - a short, stubby bill. After pouring over some fields, yup, we confirmed Walt's call. Cackling Goose.

In fact, we had three!

That brings my county list to 269 species.

Thanks Walt! Again!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Grilled Keilbasa and #512

For no good reason, I decided the have a party last night. Over 25 people were here and those who sampled the main course thought it was pretty good: grilled keilbasa with carmelized onions and apples.

Before everyone arrived, I peeled and cut a bunch of apples and chopped up some onions. Cook up the onions first in butter, and then add the apples along with some apple vinegar and brown sugar. Cook for about 15 minutes. Voila. Done. The keilbasa part is easy. Few packs of pre-cooked keilbasa (the hot dog-sized ones) and grill it. Wow. Tough, huh? Very, very easy and very very good.

Unfortunately, what was supposed to be the highlight beer of the evening (for me anyway) was the Belgian Pumpkin Porter from Bastone. I was there for dinner on Halloween night (the potato ravioli with truffles are great!) so I picked up a growler. I have had many of their beers before and have never been disappointed.

Well, there is a first time for everything.

My initial impression of the beer was admittedly compromised by the other beers I had been drinking. So, I made sure I sampled it again tonight.

While the color of the beer was basically a shade brown above black (always pretty cool in my book), the aroma was very spicy. The cloves were overpowering, while the nutmeg was less so. Any way you look at it, too much spiciness. The body of the beer was far from what I expected. Typically, a porter has some "thickness" to it. Creamy perhaps. Not here, I'm afraid. Very blah. On the palate, it was a complex. Often, that word suggests good things in beer. Not here. It was a complex mess. The finish? Bring in the cloves!!! After the cloves were done pounding my taste buds to a pulp, a dry yucky bitterness was all that remained. Cloves can be a tricky thing. Its presence in almost every step of the beer seemed to push the experience away from the realm of "spice" and into the realm of "chemical". Perhaps an Erlenmeyer flask would have been more appropriate.

I was sampling this with another beer guy and we each thought perhaps a 2 or 3 out of 5 (he is a self-declared porter guy and he did not think it was a good example of the style) . After tonight's re-sample, I will waffle between a 1 or a 2. Just not a good beer.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mmm Mmm Good

Don't you hate it when people can basically eat whatever they want and, more or less, suffer no ill health?

I had an annual physical a few days ago. My blood pressure was 118/80, my fasting glucose was 75 and the total cholesterol (at left) was 155. How did I celebrate that morning? Two eggs over easy, home fries, biscuits and gravy and half a pot of coffee.

This morning? Three eggs scrambled, three blueberry muffins, and a lots 'o coffee.

You can all hate me now!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Ball Wasn't Dropped, It Was Dropped

I'm a big fan of the Civil War. While I certainly don't know everything about it (who does?), I know a few things. Among them, I now that one of the best ways for 21st century people like us to really get a handle on the 1860's is to travel there. No, you can't really travel there (duh), but you can visit a re-enactment. There, you can get a feel for wool clothes in July. You can smell the campfires and gunpowder. You can see how they ate and where they slept. Make sure you visit the doctor's tent. You will never complain about your doctor's visit again.

So, I sat shocked when I read this story. Anytime someone gets shot, it's serious stuff. But, with this line, spoken by a Sheriff investigating the incident, I couldn't stop laughing-

"I can't say that anybody dropped the ball," he said.
If you know anything about civil war firearms, I suspect you understand the dark humor here. Early Civil War weapons didn't fire a bullet. Yes, you guessed it - they fired a ball. So, no, it doesn't appear that "anybody" "dropped the ball". Instead, he "dropped the ball"...

...right down the barrel.

With a modern firearm, the lead projectile, powder and primer are basically one. We call it a bullet. Pull the trigger and bang. The pin hits the primer, which lights the powder which moves the bullet.

With many older firearms, like those from the early Civil War, for example, it's different. The cartridge is a paper square folded to hold a lead ball (which does not have to be round, like a marble, by the way) and some powder. You tear it open with your teeth and dump the powder down the muzzle of the barrel. After placing the ball and the paper at the end of the muzzle, you push like hell with the ramrod to seat the ball at the end of the barrel. After placing your percussion cap, you aim and fire. The hammer hits the cap, the cap drops the spark into the barrel, the powder goes off and pushes the ball down the barrel and towards its target.

Yes, all those steps. You might even hit your target, too!

Sure, accidents happen. By how does one fulfill a lengthy, multi-step process on accident? Can you say "Felony" or "Assault?"

I knew ya could, boys and girls.

I'll be watching this story......

Friday, October 24, 2008

Chili with #511

Further inspired by chilly weather and cold rain (which, by the way, is far worse than snow, in case you were not sure), I got into another chili recipe tonight. I had a new beer to go with it (Wow! I'm trying a new beer! No way!).

The chili, which I prepared last night actually, was far better than the stuff I had a few days ago. Plus, you have a ton of it when you are done. With bread and butter or nacho chips for dipping, you can easily get 4 meals out of it. Plus, in the grand tradition of good chili, it is better the second day!

3 tbs olive oil
1 1/2 cup chopped onions
8 large cloves of garlic
2 lbs ground chuck
1 envelope taco seasoning(!)
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
15 oz tomato sauce
3 cups chicken broth
6oz tomato paste
2 15oz cans kidney beans (drained)

Brown the onions and garlic. Add the meat and brown. Add taco stuff and dry spices; cook 2 minutes. Add sauce broth, and paste. Simmer for about 90 minutes. Add beans (from the can, Lora!) and simmer for another 5 minutes. Done. Easy. Easy. Easy. Good. Good. Good.

The only thing that can make a great chili better is washing it down with a good beer. The Railbender Ale is the second beer from my 6-pack sampler of Erie Brewing Company beers. I admit, with a train on the bottle (very cool!), I was worried the Railbender Ale (#511) was going to be a trainwreck like the drool they called Presque Ile Pilsner.

I was solidly mistaken.

The color was a medium brown or amber (it struck me as being a darker apple cider, actually). The tan head was easily two fingers high and dissapated to about 1/4 inch in a few minuters (totally gone shortly thereafter). It was here that I noticed the particulate, too; little flecks like cinnamon. After a brisk swirl, I could immediately smell the sweetness with malty undertones. On the palate, the malt/caramel combo was perfect. The finish was smooth and sweet, giving way to a dry, slightly hoppy finish.

Unfortunately, I can't give this beer a solid 5 out of 5. The massive head was an early indication of what was to come. The beer was clearly over-carbonated and ultimately botched the balance of the beer. Perhaps you have accidentally taken a slug of Coke that is too big? You can feel it burning your tongue and the linings of your cheeks? Well, it was similar to that. Once the beer had a few minutes to breath, the carbonation smoothed out a bit but it was still noticeable.

One this is clear: if they tone down the carbonination this beer is a solid winner in my opinion. For now, a 4 out of 5.

Good chili and good beer. What more could you want?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Above and Behind

Compared to the machines of today, combat aircraft from the early 1940s were pretty simple, while the pilots were simply awesome. No heat-seeking missiles. No laser-guided anything. No radar or chaff to confuse it. It was a simple machine with some simple firepower (by today's standards), the pilot's senses and skills, and lots of training. There were no time outs, no "Oh, that's not fair!" and the rules were very straightforward: fly or die.

The single safest place a pilot could find himself was above and behind his opponent. This gave the "higher" aircraft the opportunity to react to actions of the "lower" craft. At no point could the disadvantaged plane maneuver without the advantaged plane seeing it and reacting accordingly. If the enemy turned left, he turned left. A hard right was followed by a hard right. If the enemy dove and went right and then quickly came back to the left, the advantaged pilot could follow. Assuming the advantaged plane was more maneuverable and it's pilot was at least good, the disadvantaged plane was totally at it's mercy.

Above and behind the opponent is a safe place to be.

Birds know this, and do the same thing.

I was heading to the hawkwatch yesterday and found myself witnessing something I have seen too many times to count: a "ball" of passerines above a hawk. In this case, it was a mob of Starlings trying to maintain position over a Red-shouldered Hawk. (Looking for these masses of small birds is a standard trick for hawkwatchers. If you see a wad of birds on the horizen, look below them. They are likely reacting to the danger.)

While I don't think the hawk was a threat to the starlings, I gathered that the starlings were not going to take any chances. No matter what the lone bird did, they responded. At every opportunity, they shifted and twisted and flapped feverishly to get to the safe position. Above and behind. The neat part was that all the birds were reacting the same way and they were all trying to jockey for the same position. Above and behind. The shimmering of their wings was quite cool in the bright sunshine. ( I have seen this effect with thousands of blackbirds. Awesome.)

Did they talk to their wingmen? Did they get the latest and greatest information on enemy tactics from their intelligence officer? Did they spend countless hours in flight school? Well, no, no, and , yes, depending on how you look at it, I guess.

The flight school would be Mother's Nature Flight School. Eventually, all "pilots" are trained to get themselves into that sweet spot. If it worked for them the last time they encountered the enemy, it might work again. Don't screw around and don't get caught out of position. Do it quickly and efficiently or it might be the last thing you do. Over time, all the graduates that survive "Flight School" pass along their knowledge to future "pilots." Not so much by training and classwork, but by gene flow.

It's all the same, really, with combat pilots or birds. There is the one place to be - above and behind.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Greater White-fronted Goose


Here is a photo of of the Greater White-fronted Goose. It was found today by Walt Pawloski.

All the key marks can be seen clearly:
- pinkish/orange bill
- white band around the bill base
- smaller than a Canada Goose
- white line on the flank

Any key marks seen in the field but not visible in the photo? You bet. Pumpkin orange feet (observed when it was "tipping up") and a very white belly. Hmmm, white, orange and brown during the Halloween season. Its like a defective candy corn!

Interestingly, this is my first fall record. I have a few spring records from southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario. I also have a few winter records. I suppose for the purposes of migration timetables, the birds recorded in Barrow, Alaska don' t do me much good (though they certainly help pad the 'ole AK list!).

Any way you look at it, today's bird was only my second LEMP record.

Kudos, Walt.

Monday, October 20, 2008

#509 and #510

After watching an Osprey rip Hal to shreds and sounding like a 10-year old with a fly-by of a Pregnant Beast, I capped off a great day by heading to the Fort Street Brewery for dinner with some friends.

An entire series of beers had been brewed just in time for the cheesiest of all holidays: Sweetest Day. FSB took a mediocre holiday and did something cool. Some proceeds from the meals went to Homes for Our Troops, a non-profit organization that builds specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans. It works out pretty well: I get a good dinner and some great beer and they give money to organization to help those who are paying a heavy price.

Trust me. The beer did not disappoint.

#509 was the "Flowers For My Love." Guess what Doug put in it? Yeah, okay, a flower. You probably figured that out. But would you believe it was Hibiscus? Wow! A very well done beer, in my opinion. The beer was certainly red; to me it almost suggested a red wine. The flowery aroma was very obvious. Overall, it was very, very dry (again, much like a wine) with a light-to-medium body and solid fruity palate. The finish had a "puckering" kind of quality to it. All in all, a fine beer. I would highly recommend it with a fruit appetizer or a fruity dessert of some sort. A solid 4 out of 5.

#510? "Wine N Dine". If there was ever a beer/wine concoction, this might be it. I must tell you: the color was a bit of a turn off. That funky, watery, brown was not the best way to start things out. But the taste, largely a result of a large dose of Concord grapes, was very good. As you might expect, it was very sweet (in the nose and on the tongue). Balance was good. Sure, it was a bit try, but like the Flowers For My Love, you would expect that. Pretty decent stuff. Easily a 4 out of 5.

These two beers, by the way, bring my Fort Street Brewery list to 26 beers...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Pregnant Beast

I spent a good part of my day yesterday at the Detroit River Hawk Watch. All in all, it was a fine day. Over 6,000 Turkey Vultures were recorded, plus I saw my first Rough-legged Hawk of the season. A highlight of the day was seeing not one, not two, but four Golden Eagles in a single field of view. Yes, a kettle of Golden Eagles! Sure that was cool, but something else topped off my day.

I saw a Pregnant Beast.

Grumman's TBF Avenger.

The Avenger was a United States Navy torpedo bomber that the replaced the hardly devastating Devastator during the first year of World War II. It saw service in the military for decades after the war.

When first introduced in 1938, the Douglas TBD Devastator was in impressive machine. The first all-metal, low-wing aircraft in the Navy, it had a cruising speed of 128 mph. Many felt it could effectively deliver the 1,000 pound torpedo slung under its belly.

Unfortunately, by the time hostilities broke out in 1941, it was an obsolete piece of trash. By comparison, the Japanese torpedo bomber, codenamed "Kate" by the Allies had a top speed of 235 mph with a 1,700 pound payload. Basically, it was a plane that flew twice as fast and could deliver almost twice as much damage.

The short-comings of the Devastators became horribly apparent during the Battle of Midway in early June, 1942. The sad story of Torpedo Squadron 8 from the USS Hornet illustrates the frustration of war when good men are sent into combat with bad equipment. The slow, under-armed tubs where cut to pieces with ease by Zeros, the superior Japanese fighter. All 15 planes , with two crew each, were lost. One man survived. (He happened to have a front row seat for the destruction of the backbone of the Japanese Navy, but that is a story for another time.)

While a few Avengers were involved at Midway, most aircraft carriers did not carry a full compliment until later in 1942.

What a difference a good plane can make.

With a maximum speed of over 270mph, it could carry a one ton torpedo or 1 ton of bombs in an internal bomb bay. Later modifications allowed for rockets under the wings. The crew of three consisted of a pilot, turret gunner and bombardier. In my photo, you can't see the turret, but you'll notice how the belly of the plane has a peculiar "kink" in it. That location accommodated a .50 caliber machine gun (sometimes referred to as a "stinger") that was used by the bombardier when he was not using the radio or getting ready for the bomb run. Overall, the plane's versatility allowed it to be used in anti-submarine warfare and as a airborne radar station. It's large fuselage could accommodate the now primitive vacuum tubes found in early radar systems. Can you see now why it is called a "Pregnant Beast"? Look at that big belly!

George H. W. Bush, the future American president, was an TBF Avenger pilot. He received a Distinguish Flying Cross for bravely releasing his payload before crashing down in enemy territory on 2 Sep 1944. Apparently, Paul Newman was a turret gunner in the later stages of the war.

It was a flight of Avengers, the now famous Flight 19, that was lost in the Bermuda Triangle during 1945. Oh, the mystery of it all. Not really. They got lost and crashed. Mystery solved.

Almost 10,000 were built, with General Motors taking over the bulk of production from Grumman. 42 are still air worthy.

Only 42 and I saw one of them. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Bummer of a Birthmark, Hal

"Bummer of a birthmark, Hal"

Anyone who is a fan of the world's greatest cartoonist, Gary Larson, knows that title. The short sentence is spoken by a handsome deer with a giant rack to another handsome deer with an equally impressive sent of antlers. On the chest of the second deer is a giant bulls-eye.

Well, I saw Hal just yesterday. Except in this case, Hal was not a deer. He was a goldfish getting his head torn off by an Osprey.


Now, you might be wondering how in the world such a thing could happen. Gather 'round folks, and let me tell you.

The Osprey is a fish eating raptor. Their entire body design is all about hunting fish. Long legs allow them to have a reach deep into the water. Their feet have giant talons and rough soles for grabbing and holding fish. Their outer toes can be "swing out" such that they have a wider, and therefore better, grip on the slippery fish. (You can do this, too. Imagine your hand is an Osprey's foot and bend you pinky finger out, back, and around so it touches your wrist. Okay...nevermind. You can't do it. Ice should make it better.)

Anyway, how they catch fish is the really cool part. They hover like helicopters and watch the waters below. When they see their prey, their brains function like a tracking computer on a laser-guided bomb. Angle, speed and point of impact are determined and in they go. Most of the time, like most predators, they miss. Every now and then, they score a hit.

What does this have to do with Hal the Goldfish?

Well, every now and then, a goldfish, in the wild, is indeed gold. They can also be brownish and look alot like a Carp. In fact, that happens most of the time. So, if the Osprey is, say, 100' in the air, what do you think would be easier to see in shallow, vegetation-clogged water - dozens of brown carp (or goldfish) or the gold goldfish?

Yeah. Easy, huh?

Sorry Hal. Bummer of a birthmark...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Day Before - Day After - Whatever....

With the chilly weather upon us, I figured it was time to get going on some chili recipes. While I have a few recipes for chili in my books, I thought I would hit the Internet and see what was to be had. I found a website with a recipe called "Day Before Chili."

The premise of the recipe was to whip it up the "day before", let it sit refrigerated overnight and then re-heat. They swore it would be better that way! Well, okay. So I gave it a go!

Now, before I get into this, you might recall a made-for-television movie that aired in 1983 called "The Day After". While I was only 13, I remember some of it. It was about nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. They didn't get into who started it, because it was more about the families. It won two Emmies and was nominated for a pile more.

What does the Day Before Chili have to do with The Day After?

Both are about a bomb.

All the ingredients sounded good with nothing really crazy or out of this world. Ground beef, kidney beans, red and green peppers, tomatoes, cumin, onions, garlic...you get the point. Plus, it called for 6oz of beer! That is extra points in my book! Throw it together and put it away? I could have just as easily thrown it away. Well, maybe it was not that bad but if I paid for it in a restaurant, I would have been highly disappointed.

It was simply a blah recipe. Unfortunately, it called for over 1 1/2 pounds of beef plus tons of other stuff so I have alot left. Maybe I can caulk my tub with or something.....

Plus, the kitchen was a disaster area when I was done preparing it.

Yeah, you guessed it:

Fallout.