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, 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:


Thursday, October 16, 2008


Malt malt malt malt malt malt malt.

I think that sums up beer #508.

All things considered, I am a fan of the Goose Island Beer Company. But, for some reason, the Harvest Ale just doesn't cut it.

Sure, a pale copper color is always inviting. But, the head was not one finger thick and disappeared rather quickly. The malty (have I used that word yet?) aroma was rather overpowering. Taste? Malty and hoppy. Normally, this can be a good thing, but in this case, its not. The carbonation and all was fine, but the hoppiness was just a bit bitter for my liking. (Their own website describes it as a "medium high" bitterness".)

Oh, by the way, guess what the finish was like? Bitter, with a malty undertone....

2 out of 5.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two Cool

I spent a few hours at the Detroit River Hawk Watch yesterday. There was very fortunate timing on my part as I had the opportunity to view and photograph two cool birds. It was too cool.

In mid-afternoon, Calvin Brennan, the counter for the Detroit River Hawk Watch said some words that hawkwatchers in these parts tend to take very seriously: "See that bird right there?" The simple five-word sentence was accompanied by a simple pointing of the finger off into space. A quick flip of my binoculars and there it was:

The Black Vulture is, for all intents and purposes, an unmistakable bird. First, its black (wow, I'll bet you're stunned at this point, huh?) . There are white panels at the tips of very blocky wings and the tail is very short (almost too short, it seems). All these marks were instantly noted through binoculars despite the estimated altitude of 1,000 feet. As I clicked away with my camera, I realized the combination of angle, sun, and distance were working against me. So, I put down the camera and watched the bird fly off behind us.

Before it disappeared into the great blue yonder, I had a chance to see what I think is the best characteristic of the Black Vulture. You see, most birds of prey seem to understand that they can fly. Be it soaring or diving, many are very accomplished aerialists. Well, Black Vultures act like they don't have a handle on this flight thing. Gliding? Sure. But flapping? No way. Its quick, snappy and frantic. It is almost comical. You can imagine the bird saying to itself: "Ohhhh! Ohh, crap, oh! Ooooh, woah, aaaah, Doh! Oh, whew, okay, I'm back to gliding now..."

Four of us got a chance to see the bird. It was for me, believe it or not, my second Lake Erie Metropark record. I had one on March 10, 2000. Calvin recorded one just a few days ago (October 6th) and he also had one October 2nd, 2003. So, that means four records for Wayne County and 18 overall for the state.

In case you are wondering what the big deal is, it's this: Black Vultures are found in the south. It has been said that their range is an almost perfect match for the Confederacy. So, you can find them with ease in places like Florida, Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi. They barely creep into southern Ohio but their range along the Atlantic seaboard is pushing further and further north. They now breed in Connecticut.

The other bonus bird of the day was an adult rufous-morph Red-tailed Hawk. A what Red-tailed Hawk? A rufous morph. Red-tailed Hawks can be subdivided into races, some of which, in turn, have a wide variety of appearances. The end result is a huge array of Red-tailed Hawks across the continent.

The bird shown above on the right is the Redtail (the other is a Turkey Vulture). Yes, my photo is poor, but you can certainly see that is is not a "normal" Red-tailed Hawk. While the tail was red (trust me), you can certainly see the belly is totally dark while the upper chest is somewhat lighter. The flight feathers are whitish while the underwing coverts are dark. Now, if you had the bird in your hand, sure, you could see bands on the tail and barring on the flight feathers. Also, what appears to be dark or black in the photo is really a deep brown while the breast is rufous (hence the name).

This is a classic example of what hawkwatching can be like: it is what you see, not what is. That sounds very Jedi, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 12, 2008



Okay, what is the first word that comes to mind?

Now, check out the label on the Brasserie Blond Sparkling Ale?

Yes, I knew it! You were thinking "bra", weren't you? See, it's not just me!

Blonds in bras. That is exactly what the marketing wizards at the Arbor Brewing Company wanted you to think.

Its that old marketing ploy. If you buy the same golf clubs used by Tiger Woods, you golf like Tiger Woods. If you buy the guitar used by Joe Satriani, you play an axe like Joe.

So, what happens if one buys a beer with a title that suggests underclothes and has a image of an attractive blond on the bottle? Simple. Open the bottle and half nude woman jumps out. How cool is that?

Very cool, I'm sure. But, that is not what happened. Damn.

Note the spelling. "Brasserie", not "Brassier".

Apparently, "brasserie" is French for a café that doubles as a restaurant with a relaxed setting. It can have more informal eating hours than a full-fledged restaurant. Typically, a brasserie is open every day of the week and the same menu is served all day. "Brasserie" can also be "a brewery".

If the Arbor Brewing Company wanted you to think "restaurant", I think they could have put something else on the label, right?

That said, what came out of my bottle? A half nude blonde? No. This.

Okay, no, she did not really jump out of the bottle. But, I think she best describes what I thought of the beer. It poured a deep straw yellow color (the "blonde", I assume) which is fine, of course, and had lots of suspended particulate. But, the carbonation was totally out of control. The head was easily two or three fingers high. After it died off a bit, the roaring of the fizz was outrageous. It was very difficult to get a handle on anything beyond aroma (I use the word loosely) because the carbonation was so strong. It smelled like moldy fruit or something equally bad and was rather watery on the palate. The finish was heavy and rank.

At best, a 1 out of 5. A very sorry beer.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Small Fish - 6 Great Egret - 1

I watched this spectacular bird from a distance of less than 100 feet (that's pretty close considering how jumpy they can be). During the 15 minutes or so that I watched it hunt, it managed only one minnow during in 7 attempts........

Pasta with Turkey Bolognese

In the past few weeks or so, I have not been very daring in the kitchen. Lots of frozen foods or perhaps a simple chicken dinner in the oven. Feeling the need to get going with something new, but not wanting to go crazy, I whipped up some Pasta with Turkey Bolognese.

Before your mind goes off track, I don't mean this Bolognese. I'm not in China!

Brown 1 pound of ground turkey. Stir in one big jar (26oz) of spaghetti sauce, 1 teaspoon of dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary and 2 medium zucchini (cut in half and sliced). Simmer for about 5 minutes. Dump this over 1 pound of pasta shells (which has been cooking the whole time). Mix with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and you are done!!!

A super recipe. Easy to make. Literally, two pounds of food (or more) and plenty of left overs. If you are looking for an easy weeknight meal and want lunch or dinner leftovers (for a few days), this is the recipe for you!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dripping Butter

I had the opportunity to do some late afternoon birding at Lake Erie Metropark. The trails were totally alive with Robins, Grackles, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. One "Yellowrump" was cooperative enough to sit still so I could snap a photo. At one point, I figured I was surrounded by a few dozen. They truly seemed to be everywhere.

You have to be wondering about my entry title. Yellow-rumped Warblers have a "yellow" spot on the "rump." You can do the "math", right? "Yellow = butter" while "rump = butt". Get it? Yellowrump? Butterbutt?

Perhaps in the coming days I can snag a photo of one's bum....

Friday, October 3, 2008


When all is said and done, I truly have interests beyond birds and beer. History can be pretty cool, too. So, it was with great joy that I found myself at the local party store looking at a six-pack of beer that had an images of both Mad Anthony Wayne and a masted sailing ship. The six-pack featured 3 different beers from the Erie Brewing Company based in Erie, Pennsylvania. (I really like these sample packs. I get a chance to see what a brewery has to offer and I can get more new beers in one purchase.)

The US Government chose Presque Isle to build a fleet of ships during the war of 1812 because it formed the only protected harbor on Lake Erie. In 1813, during the battle of Lake Erie, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry successfully defended Lake Erie against the British with ships that were built on Presque Isle Bay, making a significant mark on the pages of history.

So, feeling myself in "history mode", I gave the Presque Isle Pilsner a go.

The pour into the snifter glass was fine and all (I did not goof it as I have been know to do now and then). While the beer itself is a spectacular straw yellow, the head did not last long. A few bubbles on the glass remained. No real lacing or sheeting. The aroma for me was unmistakable: apples. Yes, apples. Not a "bowl you over" sort of smell, but it was there (at least to my nose). My first thought was "Wow! This is starting off really well."

The body was light (like I would expect with pilsner), while the malty palate was, at best, fair. I thought the carbonation was off, too. By the time I finished the beer, it was almost flat. The finish was all wrong. It struck me as being a bit bitter. Not hoppy bitter, mind you, but certainly bitter. But, at the same time, believe it or not, there was a watered down feel. Watered down bitterness. That is just not good....

All in all, this beer just did not do it for me. 3 out of 5 tops. Fortunately, I am in a good mood today. If I was in a bad mood, I might have given it a 2.

All that said, I wandered over to (after I rated it on my own) and people were not overly excited there either. Out of 54 reviews, it averaged a C+. In fact, a few were pretty ruthless: one fellow described it as "a sorry excuse for a craft beer" while another guy called it pure...well, you get the point.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blue's Missing Clues

While I don't watch kid's television, I am familiar with a Nickelodeon program called Blue's Clues. Apparently, this blue dog, Blue (woah!), leaves clues for the show's host to ponder. By the end of the program, he (the host) sits in his "Thinking Chair" and attempts to come up with an answer. Basically, it is a puzzle and answer show that gives Sesame Street a run for the money.

Every now and then, a birder (at least honest ones like me) sees a bird they should know but can't place the name. During the fall migration, this is even easier to do as many of the birds look different than they would in the spring. For example, male warblers don't look as flashy. Their fancy looks in the spring are all about mating. Once breeding is done, their fancy colors are lost before they head south for the winter. (It might be likened to some guys nowadays. Oh sure, they shower, shave and keep the place clean, but once they get married, all that goes out the window!). Female warblers are, in some cases, pretty drab to begin with. (I'm not going there.) But during the fall, you now have young birds to contend with. In some cases, you can separate males and females even though they are only a few months old!

So what do puzzles and birds have to do with anything?! Well, everything!

I was birding at Lake Erie Metropark today. While I spent some time at the Hawk Watch, I opted to press on and see what songbirds I could muster. White-throated Sparrows were apparent and I scrounged up a Red-eyed Vireo, too. But one bird, left me looking around for my Thinking Chair.I am certain some of you are looking at this bird thinking I'm an idiot. (I'm also certain some of you think I'm an idiot anyways and this bird has nothing to do with it, but I won't walk that path either.)

The issue here I think is the old "zero in on one field mark to help you identify the bird "problem. It didn't take long to figure out I was looking at a warbler (the tweezer-like bill for nabbing insects is the key). I knew that is what not a adult male bird in fall plumage as my mental Rolodex flashed them all and nothing was a match. Okay, cool. Now I have to manage the females and young of the year.

So what is there? What sort of clues did I have? Well, it seems to have buffy tones underneath while the upperside is olive. The eyebrow (officially called the supercilium) is obvious as is the white crescent under the eye. You might say its lack of field marks is a field mark. Oh, it has to be a Black-throated Blue Warbler. A female, in fact. I can confirm it with the white patch on the primary flight feathers. It is....right.....

...wait a minute.....

There isn't a white patch on the primaries. All female Black-throated Blues have a white patch in the base of the primaries, right? Hmmm, no white so it can't be that. I spent the next 15 mintues trying to figure out what the heck it was.

Of course, it wasn't until I got back to my Thinking Chair (the drivers seat of my car) that I confirmed it. I looked at my photos on my camera (I shoot digital) and compared it with a field guide. Well, it turns out not all Black-throated Blues have white in the wings. Apparently, about 10% of the first fall females are missing the classic clue. Even then, I showed the photo to a few folks, and they confirmed it.

A first fall female Black-throated Blue Warbler. (In case you are wondering, the bird species is named after the male's breeding colors. You can see one here.)

Perhaps I am not too old for children's television after all.