Monday, December 28, 2009

Whiteout

Greetings from the Great White North! "White" and "North" both apply, but "Great" is not such a good word if you are thinking birds.

I am currently holed up in Paradise, Michigan with some friends. We figured a late year trip for some boreal birds might be fun, right? Maybe some owls around the Soo and perhaps some boreal passerines near Whitefish Point?

After an early start from Metro Detroit (~5am), snow squalls from lake effect weather were a problem the whole way. While posted speeds are 70mph, we rarely got to 55mph. How did they do it in the old days? The bulk of the time (what little we had left) was spent at Hulbert Bog about on hour west of the Soo. Beyond that, we were just trying to manage the road with the winds and blowing snow.

We could count on two hands, if we had polydactyly, the number of bird species for the day - only 12. For the most part, there nothing of note. Some Canvasback and Scaup at the Straits below the Bridge, Ravens here and there, and a group of Chickadees at the Hulbert Bob who really needed a Boreal Chickadee as a companion. A Dove here, a small mystery falcon there. Not much. Really disappointing for the most part...with one notable exception. West of Paradise, feeding easily 20 feet up in a tree, sat a Ruffed Grouse.

Of course, any trip to the region would not be complete without a trip to Tahquamenon Falls. No, not the Falls, the Pub 33 Brewery at the Falls (we got there after dark). I was there on April 23, 2004 and knew they had to have had few new brews in the last 5 years. Sure, enough, they did! The Peach Wheat Ale (#688) and the Lumberjack Lager (#689) were both pretty good. The Peach was exactly what you would expect - peachy. The Lager had something going on there but we couldn't figure it out. But we did not let that stop us from liking it! I gave them a "3" and "4".

It is possible those people at the campground had been drinking at the Pub. What in the world would possess people to camp when temps are going to well belowing freezing and windchills are sub-zero is beyond me. But, to their credit, the Christmas tree in the campsite looked pretty cool!

Tomorrow? More time looking for those pesky passerines and then off to bungle around looking for owls. Perhaps I will check back in if I get the chance....

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Trifecta

For the eight of you that actually read this blog, you know I have varied interests. Among other things, I like history, I like to travel, and I like good coffee and coffee collectables. A few days ago, I scored something that meshes all three. eBay - what a wonderful thing!




If you are having trouble reading this memo (the original, by the way, is not 8 inches tall), here it is:

Menger Hotel
San Antonio Texas
If you have any mail for me, please forward to the above address and oblige.
Respectfully,
John H. Hanley

Did you see the date? February 25, 1879. Notice, too, how the memo's ink fades as he writes. The date has that same degree of faintness, suggesting, to me anyhow, that he wrote the date after drafting the memo. As someone who clearly has writing that rivals that of a third grader, I was really happy to see how he goofed up his "R" in "respectively". Apparently, sloppy handwriting has been around at least since the latter part of the 19th century!

As you may recall, I have been to San Antonio. The Menger Hotel? Been there, done that. Remember? It is convienienlty parked right next to the Alamo. Jammed full of history, any place that has been around since 1859 and served people like Teddy Roosevelt, Gutzon Borglum, and Babe Ruth gets an "A" in my book!

So what is up with the Thomson and Taylor Spice Company? Well, everything and nothing at the same time. What was going on when Hanley wrote his memo in 1879? It apparently has origins dating back to 1865. A few people came and a few people went. Taylor and Thomson were in charge by 1872 (so they would have been Hanley's boss). By 1920, the name was adjusted after a fellow by the name of Warfield bought the controlling interests; it became known as the Thomson and Taylor Co.. I know the building that served as the main office still stands in Chicago. Apparently, they are trying to get tenants to move in and make it sort of an arts district. You can read about it here.

Unfortunatley, I can't seem to find much about what happened between 1920 and now! As far as I can gather, T&T became a division of the Warfield Company. At one point, they were making root beer extracts well into the 1930's, but I can't seem to find much more. Very frustrating. The Internet is supposed to be the solution to all my problems!

What wasn't frustrating was the cost. I almost broke the bank on this one. Including shipping, it almost cost 10 bucks....

Monday, December 21, 2009

I Love Home Improvements!

Every now and then, I get a bug. No, not an "illness" bug, but a bug to do home improvements. While some people would think that a desire to move forward with a do-it-yourself home improvement project is actually an illness of sorts, I think painting a room is manageable.

Usually...

So, for purposes of this exercise that defines the idea of "hire a professional", it would help if you knew the layout of my bedroom. The accent wall would be the wall at the head of my bed. Wall #2 has two doors - a door to the bathroom and the main door. Wall #3 has the closet door (a walk-in) and is mostly, well, a wall. Wall #4 is mostly wall (imagine that!) with the one and only window.

The plan was to color the main wall a dark green with the 3 remaining walls a light green. Why green, you may ask? Everything else in the room is green (bedding), dark cherry (book shelves and night stand), light beige (carpet) or an old coppery green (ceiling fan, lamp, and bed frame). So, if you ask me, green tones to the walls would be a super look.

Hmmmm, now what green should I get? Have you been to Home Depot lately? Lowe's maybe? The available colors are enough to make you feel green while spending it, right? Colors include Asparagus, Mountain Forest, June Vision, Celery Sprig....oh, I could on and on. There are only dozens to choose from. Mind numbing, isn't it?

So what did I pick? Christopher's Robin's Swing. Now, before you roll your eyes and chuckle at my masculine bedroom with paint named after a child in a poem, understand a few things. First, it was a nice green. Really! Second, it was a free can of paint! Basically, a deal had been haggled with a friend - I get a gallon of paint for 10 minutes of my time setting up their computer printer. That color would be my accent wall. I just needed to find a lighter shade of green for the three remaining walls.

Now, I did preview the color on the wall at my friend's house, but admittedly, it was poorly lit. I had the card, saw the wall, and said "Yeah, this will do." After my trip to Home Depot, "Skipping Stones" got the nod for the other walls. Hey, they were on the same little card and looked okay together, all right? So, yes, technically this guy was painting his wall with Disney colors. But, get off me, okay? Would it have been better if I painted things "bile green", "duodenum green" or "bruise green"? Just shades of green, right? Shades of green. Names don't mean diddly.

Within a few hours, everything was taped up, and the first coat went on the accent wall. "Funny. I thought it was going to be more green... Oh, it still wet. But, hey, this looks great!" Coat number two goes on a bit later. Hmmmmm...still not quite as green as I thought it would be. Ahhh, its the light. The paint looks great!

The following day (this would have been Thursday), I started on walls #2, #3 and #4. The first coat went on just fine. At least, from what I could see. It turns out "Skipping Stones" is more like "We Skipped the Pigment". I could hardly tell where I had painted and where I didn't. All that time and effort and I can barely see anything? Hmmmm, I gotta do something. Back to Home Depot. Let's try "Dried Palm". By dinner, the first coat is on. By bedtime, the second coat is on. The tape comes off. Final clean-up should be set for Friday morning.

Friday morning comes. Who in the hell snuck into my room and re-painted everything? These colors? Nasty. That green on the three walls does NOT look right with the accent wall! Okay, I'm done trying to match colors. Forget it. Accent walls are great, but I must be color blind or something. I have enough of the Christopher Robin's Swing to finish the room. Wall #2. Done. Wall #3. Done. Wall #4. Arrggghhhhhhh! Not enough! Big deal. Back to Home Depot to get enough to finish the wall and therefore complete the room. (If you are keeping track, by the way, that would have been my 923rd trip to Home Depot since I began to conceptualize this project.)

New tray. New paint. On the wall it goes. Hmmmmmmm.......arghhhh!!! IT DOESN"T MATCH! The original can was totally wrong. Holding the new lid against the old lid, it is crystal clear now - all the color matching issues were rooted in two problems. One - the original can (the hand-me-down can) was botched when they (the store) mixed it. Two - I shouldn't be painting. What was supposed to be Christopher Robin's Swing was looking more like Winnie's Pooh. More of a brown-green than green. The picture at the left really shows the shocking contrast. The green line on the wall should perfectly match the wall itself. Not even close. (For the record, the color was fine. It really was. There was just no way to duplicate it....)

Okay, lets make the best of this. I have my color and now all four walls need to be painted. Work backwards from wall #4 to to #1. If I need to, get more paint to finish the job. Wall #4. All trim work done. Wall #3. All trim work done. Wall #2. Ditto. A few rolls go on to Wall #1. Hmmmmmmm...how come the new paint that is going on Wall #1 doesn't look like Walls #2, #3 or #4? For that matter, why doesn't #3 look like #4 or #2 look like #3? New tray. New paint. Ohhhhhh, it was the old roller smothered with Winnie's Pooh! Ta-dah! I was mixing paint! Yaaaaaaayy!

Okay. Clear the head. Lower the blood pressure (Drum sets come in handy here. I can't believe I didn't shatter the thing). Think happy thoughts. New paint? New tray? New roller? Done. Commence rolling. A few hours later? Completion. Finally.

I think the picture at the left more or less shows what the final product looks like. A nice subtle green with a white ceiling. Total paint colors used? Four. Total gallons of paint? 149. Total length of blue painter's tape? 16 miles. Total time spent? About 3 days. Total cost of project? 1.8 million dollars.

I have lived here since 2004. This is my third DIY project. At this pace, I might do my next one sometime around 2011........

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Two Facts Of Life

Yesterday's road trip was a chance to learn two of life's important lessons. Read on.......

With a day off and and plans for the evening hours from home, it was decided to mosey our way west along Michigan Avenue. Someday, maybe, we can take it all the way to Chicago, but not today. Casual driving until dinner time. That was the plan.

Needing some munchies, we bumbled towards the dainty little "town" of Brooklyn. After turning north at Michigan International Speedway, my co-pilot spied a huge white bird sitting on a post. Given the lighting and my speed (not all influenced by the speedway, I'll have you know!), the first thought that crossed our minds this time of year was "Snowy Owl". After a double u-turn, we found ourselves not 50 yards from the bird. Immediately, we ruled out the owl. The head was too noticeable; a snowy owl head is rounded and seems like it is truly part of the body. While preposterously rare, a white Gyrfalcon needed to be considered. Our bird was big and certainly falcon/buteo in shape. (Hey! Cut me some slack! If undeserving kids can have sugar-plums dancing in their heads, we can dream about finding a white Gyr!)

Sure enough, the bird was patient enough for us to glass it and confirm it's identity: adult partial albino Red-tailed Hawk. Unfortunately, the camera gear was in the back seat. After grabbing it, getting the lens cap off, setting some dials, and swinging the camera into position (after an elapsed time of 27 years), the bird took off. Oh, hell no, he couldn't just fly when we stopped the car. No way. He had to wait for me to be a split second shy of "ready" and then take off. I managed a few shots as it flew, but as you would expect, it went the wrong way. Finally landing a few hundred yards out, I managed the shot you see here. Had the bird cooperated, I think I may have been able to get some pics comparable to this one from Belle Isle a few weeks back.

In case you are wondering why it is considered a partial albino with all that white present, it is simple - it must be completely white (no pigment anywhere). A bird with even one normal feather would be considered a partial albino. This bird had some red tail feathers as well as a scattering of colored primaries, secondaries, and coverts. Any way you look at it, it was an awesome sight!

By 4pm, we found ourselves in Marshall. While small, but huge compared to Brooklyn, the town is older than dirt. It was established in 1830. With an awesome, historic downtown jammed with cool art galleries and antique shops, we really did not do ourselves a service by allowing less than 90 minutes to look around. That said, I did find a dandy little coffee book published in 1932. Neat stuff. I could easily have dropped over 200 buckos on any number of cool antique mills, but that wasn't going to happen. That $325 coffee crate was so tempting, too.

At this point, I am sure you're wondering "Why in the world Marshall?" Did I really drive almost 2 hours to find a $3.50 coffee pamphlet? Of course not. What often beckons me? Yup, beer and friends.

The Dark Horse Brewery was a fine meeting to catch up with my friends Josh, and his wife, Kara. My first impression (of the place, not Josh and Kara!) was "small". The quarters were very tight and had the feel of a garage-turned-bar. The table that was a door helped to set that mood! Very cozy. Shame on the person who does not shower and comes to a place like this! All in all, it was actually very cool! Thousands of ceramic mugs (I mean it - thousands!) were hanging from every square inch of usable space. It was all a part of the beer club, apparently. No two mugs were the same. As we were told from a friend of Josh's who showed later, most of the mugs are made by some guy in the Upper Peninsula who has no electricity. How a guy in the U.P. becomes the go-to guy for ceramic mugs needed by a brewery less than one hour from Indiana is anybody's guess!

So how were the beers, you ask? Both were great. The Boffo Brown Ale (#684) was awesome. As someone who is getting a better appreciation of brown ales, I can tell you this one is tops. Carmelly (is there such a word?), smooth, and creamy, this scored a "5" hands down. The Too Cream Stout (#686) was every bit as good. Chocolaty , smooth like liquid silk , and with well balanced roasted tones, it was incredible. Having two great beers with another one of the basic food groups - pizza - made for a great meal. At least 10 other brews were available, but obviously, I couldn't try them all! With an alcohol level pushing the limits of aviation fuel, the "Plead the Fifth Imperial Stout" will have to wait. I do, however, have a four-pack of the "4 Elf Winter Ale" in the fridge. I'll keep you posted.

By the end of the evening, we confirmed a few important facts of life: Red-tailed Hawks are stunning regardless of colors but annoyingly uncooperative, and the Dark Horse Brewery is a must for anybody within a two-hour drive.

(Oh yeah, we also decided iPhones rule and Big Wheels are cool.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nicknames

"River Wolf! I need a pick-up. Two Bumblebee Dippers in the decoys. Right side."

What a bizarre sentence, huh? Such was part of some radio chatter the day after Thanksgiving. Here is a little background....

Prior to the passing of International Migratory Bird Act of 1918, a sinkbox was a regular and accepted way to hunt waterfowl. What in the world is a sinkbox, you ask? Imagine a box large enough to accommodate one or two people. Take that box and place it in the water so the hunter is more or less below the surface. When he stands up, his shoulders, head, and shotgun are above the water. Panels lying at the water's surface like wings provide stability and a place to set a series of cast-iron decoys. By the time the Bird Act was passed, it was known that the sinkbox was too lethal. The ducks never saw the hunters. Post-1918, it became illegal to hunt waterfowl when the body of the hunter was below the surface of the water.

Enter the layout boat.

Combine, if you can, a coffin with a giant pumpkin seed. That's it. A coffin and a giant pumpkin seed. This "boat", upwards of 8 feet long, made of wood or fiberglass, will now have a very low profile and a place to accommodate a hunter (or two sitting shoulder to shoulder). Here is the catch - the bodies of the hunters will be above the the surface. Not by much, but they are.

There is no power on this boat, by the way. It is towed into place and anchored. You have to have a second boat, at least. Some use a third boat. Our rig? Three. The layout boat, the main boat, and pick-up boat (used to ferry the hunters between the other two and to pick up the ducks).

Oh wait. Now we have to trick the ducks into coming closer, right? That is where the decoys come in and their arrangement is key. In our case, we had seven lines maybe 75 feet long (I'm not sure). At each end? An anchor. So, if you throw it in the water, it is weighted at both ends, right? Evenly spaced across the line are 10 or eleven decoys attached to the main line by a shorter segment of line. Set perpendicular to the wind, five main lines are placed in front of the boat with the other two lines behind the boat. The boat is set so that the length of the boat is parallel to the wind. Got all that?

I think the pic on the left pulls it all together (I took it last year, but that is not the point!). Mid-frame? That is the layout boat. While this is a two-person boat, you can have a one-person boat, too. See the low profile of the boat? Now imagine the two hunters are on their backs. Gone. You won't see them. The ducks won't either. The two-person craft is, well, cozy. In the distant right portion of the image you can see two boats - the main boat and pick-up boat.

Ultimately, it comes together like this. The ducks, looking for a place to feed, see the decoys and think "Hey, they have some chow! I want some, too!" Not concerned about the boat, they come into the decoys from downwind. By landing into the wind (just like planes on a aircraft carrier), they have better control of their speed and lift and can land more smoothly. With the hunter's head propped up over the combing of the boat, the ducks "out front" are clearly seen as they make the final approach. Just before they land, they drop their legs. That's the signal. If they are in range (within the distant-most line of decoys), you sit up, aim, and fire.

All in all, the day went very well. Current regs allow for six total birds per person. I shot my six. Five Buffleheads and a Redhead. The best chances I had with the Buffleheads (historically known as Bumblebee Dippers) involved them slowing down to land or taking off (at one point, I had birds landing in the decoy spread!). In both cases, air speed was minimal. During flybys, the groups would pass low over the decoys, as if to investigate the situation. Their petite size and speed combine for the ultimate illusion and make them look like they are flying even faster than the published speed of 60 mph. Not quite the speed of light, but certainly too fast for this guy...

The layout boat and the main boat are in communication with radios. Apparently, no one uses their own name over the airwaves and no one picks their own handle. "River Wolf "was running the show. Normally, "Magnum", his son, is on hand too, but he was hunting in Ohio. "Decoy Slayer" was in for the day, while "Buckshot" was there for part the afternoon. My name? I was happy it was not "Moron", "Dufous", or "Asshat". Sure, I like beer, but mixing a beer call sign with hunting would be hugely stupid and no joking matter.

Good ducks. Good friends. Good times. The weather and temps cooperated (it was a bit windy, but manageable) and the home-baked pumpkin pie, courtesy of my mom, made for some good nibbles while waiting out in the main boat. All things considered, it was a great day.

Birdman out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The King...Again

While birding the other day with my good buddy, Don, I snagged a pic of a Kingfisher. I managed a flight shot a few weeks back at Lake Erie Metropark, but I like this one soooooo much better.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cherries

Sometimes, you just get burned out a bit and don't feel like cooking much. Tonight was one of those nights. Sure, I could have gone out but then I would be spending money (which I am trying to save right now), so I was looking to stay hone and do something easy and light. I did just that.

Cous-cous with dried cherries and pine nuts. Huh? Cous-cous is nothing more than a funny little pasta. Pine nuts are, well, nuts from pines. Cherries? I'm sure you know what they are, but did you know recent studies have shown that they lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in rats?

Wait....don't think about that last one too hard....

So, what more could you want than something that is done in minutes, tastes great, and dare I say it, is good for you?! And what should one pair with a cherry-based dinner? Why, a cherry beer, of course!

Ultimately, I found the Derailed Black Cherry Ale from the Erie Brewing Company to be fair. A pale red but clear drink to the eye, the smell of cherries was all over it, as you would expect. On the palate, I found it sort of tasted like marachino cherries, but not too sweet. You would think that some sweetness might kill you here, but didn't. I found it politely refreshing. A light malty finish rounded out a fair beer. Three out of five.

A great simple meal. And not just for rats.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Meeting At The Casino


Notice anything is the picture above? Yeah, that is the Casino on Belle Isle. The original structure was built in 1887 but it burned down. Redesigned and rebuilt in 1907 by Albert Kahn, the Casino that now stands is a total gem. By the way, while we call it a "casino", you don't gamble there. Back in the day, folks would simple gather in the cool shade and be social. It was a nice location for friends to gather. Think of it as a meeting place.

See that pile of feathers in the foreground? Yup, there was meeting there, too. But it wasn't friendly....

Knowing the weather was supposed to be great this past Wednesday, a birding buddy and I hit the road. Our mission was to track down ducks. The Detroit River can be an awesome place when the ducks are in town and by early to mid-November, they should be, right? In any case, one always hopes to find something cool.

Starting at the south end of the river, we hit Elizabeth in Trenton, Bishop Park in Wyandotte, Dingle Park in Ecorse, Loranger Park in River Rouge and found exactly zero ducks! Okay, we found we a few Mallards, but that was it! You have to be kidding, right? With spirits a bit befuddled (despite finding Ring-necked Pheasant just a few block east of the GM HQ and finding Jim the Mockingbird and his squeeze on West Jefferson in Trenton by the car wash), we made our way to the final part of out tour, Belle Isle.

After making the turn on to the Island, we swung into the first lot. That duck one hundred yards out into the river seemed to be defying all of our attempts to name it. Finally, with a scope it was confirmed. Hah! A plastic decoy! Find THAT one in a field guide! Further down the way, a small raft of ducks needed some attention. For the record, it was basically the ONLY raft of duck we found - some Scaup, a few Canvasbacks, some Redheads and some Buffleheads. That was more or less it. Maybe 30 ducks, right? Ooooooooohhhh (sarcasm). Intent on finding something cool, we set off to check the rest of the island. Maybe a Cackling Goose?

After moving to the other side of the island, we spied a group of Canada Geese. Beyond them in the grass? A Peregrine Falcon on a kill! No doubt one of the Detroit birds. Now we're talkin'!!! Using the car as a blind, we moved to the other side of the field. There it sat, not 50 yards out. It was basically "stoop, tug, and eat" with feathers from the kill flying all over the place. After a few minutes, it started to get vocal and took off. Like a bunch of biology geeks, we had to find out what it had been eating. Boy, it was really nice of that Ring-billed Gull to sacrifice itself so the Peregrine could live....

As if the whole episode wasn't cool enough, it came back moments later! Unfortunately, we were still dilly-dallying at the kill site so it kept going....and landed on the light pole less than 100 yards away. Again using the car as a blind, we crept up under the bird, but the lighting was all wrong. So, we kept going (under the light pole!) and moved about 100 feet past it. Perfect late afternoon light. Crawling half way out of the sunroof, I took a whole series of photos (including the cropped but unaltered image below). Breathtaking.

So the total duck numbers were a bust. Very disappointing for mid-November. But to see one of the world's most impressive raptors at spitting distances? Too cool.

So, yeah, I guess the Casino on Belle Isle still is a meeting place of sorts. Mr. Gull? Meet Mr. Talon....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hot Chicks

Yesterday started off a bit slow, right? Internet stuff (bills, etc.) followed by some running around. Shortly after lunch, I found my settled in so I can kick back a bit.

Out of nowhere, this little cutie shows up and just sits on my knee! How presumptuous on her part, huh? She was quite cute. A tiny frame with black pants on her slender legs. A blouse, that for the most part, was gray but with bits of brown and white, too. Reeeaaaallllly nice lookin'! The black hat (I not usually a hat guy) looked really good on this chick.

Before you knew it, she was gone. I even have a picture of her.

Thank A Vet


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If Only......

If only I had $8,000 stashed in my mattress.  No, I wouldn't drink it....

The King

So, the other day, I had that card that failed and it had some pics of Elvis on it? Remember? Well, I managed a pic the other day of another "King".


This is actually a pic of the "Kingette", by the way. Interestingly, unlike many other birds where the name is derived from a male's trait, the Kingfisher is named after a trait found on the female. See that rufous belt? That's it! Hence, the Belted Kingfisher. An easy way to remember who is who is simply keep in mind who wears a two-piece swimsuit...usually....

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Golden Day

I had a chance to spend a few hours at the hawkwatch yesterday. For the most part it was rather slow, actually. However, in a interesting twist to the day's outcome, there was a proportionally high amount of Golden Eagles. At one point, we recorded, I believe 9 or so in a 45-minute window of time, while other species were basically a trickle. At one point, we had three eagles soaring together! At least 15 were recorded before the day's end.

This bird was kind enough to fly almost directly overhead. Yes, the image is slightly cropped but it was estimated that it flew about 75 feet over our heads.

A "golden" day, indeed!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Argghhh!

Technology can be a wonderful thing. It has put people on the moon, cured diseases and even convicted O.J. Simpson! Yay! You really have to love it.

Except when it breaks....

Today, I spent just a few hours at the hawkwatch. A few Golden Eagles and some other goodies, too. Apparently, it was even better before I got there. Anyhow, I was taking a few pics of things here and things there when I managed to snatch a couple of shots of a Great Egret.

You might think they are easy to photograph seeing that they are large and white. Large is cool because they are easier to track in flight. Plus they basically lumber along so you can manage a fair number of shots with the hope that a few might be worthwhile.

The white, on the other hand, makes it a bit tough. It is very easy for the camera to overdo it. Any and all detail in the white areas is "burned out" and the pics looks like junk. It is a big white blob. When you look at the pics on your camera's display, the burned out portions blink. The dreaded blinkies basically tell you "Dolt! You blew it!".

So, this Egret comes sauntering by at a fairly close range, right? The lighting is good. Shutter speed is good. Aperture is, uh, apertured. Exposure compensation is compensating(I had is adjusted right for the bird against the sky). I took maybe 15 pics as the white beauty moved along. A preliminary look at things on the camera suggest it might be a nice shot sequence! Cool!

Cool... until just now. I loaded up the compact flash card in to the computer and it can't read it. Hmmmmmmmmm. I removed and re-inserted the card. Nothing. Lots of swearing didn't do a damned thing either, so I finally re-started the computer. Still nothing. I put the card back in my camera. Toast. Totally gone. All files gone. CF card is trashed. The camera even told me to replace the card! It currently sits on the bottom of my garbage can. Damn. Those Egret photos that might have been nice? Gone forever.

But, I am still not sure you understand what has happened here. It was not just the Egret photos that I lost. Last night, I was along the Lake Erie shoreline and photographed Bessie. This morning at breakfast, that was Elvis at Kate's Kitchen eating grits and I think that was a UFO taking Glenn Beck back to the Planet Idiot (and FOX wants you to think it was his appendix!). I have the pics...er, had the pics to prove it. I guess you just have to take my word for it.

Aaah, oh well. A few lost bird pics and some stuff that would unravel society as we know it. So what. I would be really miffed if they were vacation photos!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hunter's Moon Plus Two Days

The hunter's moon — also known as a blood moon or a sanguine moon — is the first full moon after the harvest moon (the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox). Call it what you will, there seems to be variation relating to the origins of the name. Some sources suggest that it relates to Europeans hunting birds by the light of the moon. Others suggest there is a Native American connection associated with the tracking of their prey by moonlight.

Any way you look at, this year, the Hunter's Moon fell on November 2nd. On the 4th? My buddy Kevin and his father, Bud, lease property not far from here. For the third year, I was invited to join them for a deer hunt.

After dropping Bud off near his site, Kevin and I trudged our way across the bean field, under the light of the Hunter's Moon (plus two days). We shook hands wishing each other a good, safe hunt, and went off to our separate tree stands. A few minutes later, I was settled in nicely to a platform half the size of a bistro table 15 feet off of terra firma. My bow was on my lap. An arrow on the string. Frozen like a statue, eyes peeled, and ears tuned to everything, I waited.

Before long, I found myself surrounded by the dawn chorus. The Cardinals. A flight of Canada Geese. The coolest sound of them all? The flight of Sandhill Cranes calling as they headed south (you can hear the call here). There is something still pretty magical about hearing Crows in the cool autumn air. Did they see me? Then there was that Red Squirrel. For a few minutes, boy, he just did not want to shut up! After a while, I think he got tired of hearing himself and went on to other things. Watching the sunrise is really something. I just don't think enough people pay attention to it. The colors. The shifting patterns of dark, light, and shadow amongst the trees. Too cool.

At one point, as the morning ticked by, I found myself in the midst of a bird feeding-frenzy. Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, and a Brown Creeper (maybe two) seemed to be on every tree in my vicinity. It amazes me how loud those little toes grabbing tree bark can be! For a brief moment, somebody was on my tree. I never saw who it was, but I knew they were there simply because I could feel the vibrations of their movement coming up the tree. I was even waiting for a bird to land on my arrow (it happens).

The picture below is what I saw from the treestand. While it seems a bit cluttered in this view, there was actually plenty of shooting room. It faces basically south and this was the view to my slight left. Below me? A deer run. Do I know deer have recently used it? I certainly do, but that is story for another time.

In the late morning, I found myself straining to a get a fix on the sound behind me to my left. Leaves rustled. It sounded kinda big. Finally, moving ever so slowly, I peeked around the tree and found myself in a staring contest with a Woodchuck. Sitting high on his haunches, he was clearly on alert. I will never be sure what he saw, but it makes perfect sense that he realized I was there but had no idea what to make of the "tree with eyes". After what seemed minutes, he went on with his day (getting fat, not chucking wood).

By noon, our day was done. My Pop-tarts where gone and sitting functionally motionless in the the chilly weather was taking its toll. We knew going out we would only have a half day available. No, we did not shoot any deer. For that matter, we never even saw one. But it didn't really matter. It was a great morning to be out with my friends and my thoughts.

I have yet to shoot a deer. Maybe next time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Death at 25 Yards

I hope I shoot like this in the woods on Wednesday......

#666

Woe to you, oh earth and sea
For the Devil sends the beast with wrath
Because he knows the time is short
Let him who hath understanding
Reckon the number of the beast
For it is a human number
Its number is six hundred and sixty six


That quote, from the Book of Revelation, is the spoken word that begins the Iron Maiden classic "The Number of the Beast". No, it is not a song about demon worship; it is about a bad dream. (So says the guy who wrote it! He should know!)

Also consider this: "Pandemonium" is the capital of Hell in the epic poem Paradise Lost by the 17th century English poet John Milton.

Then there is "Interview With the Vampire". Remember that one? Tom Cruise (before he went publicly loony) and Brad Pitt (showing his acting skills have sucked since day one) as the vampires Lestat and Louis? What a cool movie. Very demonic, huh?

Hmmmmm. The number 666. Pandemonium. Blood sucking weirdos. How could these things come together on Halloween night?

Yes, folks, my 666th beer was the Pandemonium Pale Ale from the Short's Brewing Company. In spite of the demonic name, it is far from hellish. It pours a beautiful copper color with a head that swells up and stays there. The hops are there from start to finish, as you would expect with this style of beer, but not enough to ruin the effect. Powerful hops in moderation is a great thing here. On the tongue? An ever-so-slight creamy feel. Pleasant finish. Overall all, a fine beer. A 4 out of 5 for sure.

Good company, good food, a great beer and a spooky movie on Halloween night. The only thing missing was the Iron Maiden tune blasting the background...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Huh?


So this is the time of year when people want to get the leaves out their yards, right? Not enough people rake anymore. Everybody wants a leaf blower. I saw three people using those infernal machines today. So what's the big deal?

Winds today are gusting up to 30mph.........

Happy Halloween


Monday, October 26, 2009

3 Passions In A Day

Everybody has things they like to do. No surprise there, right? For me, I got to knock off three of them in one day.

So today was my first of three days off in row, right? While there were certainly many things I could have been doing (or should have been doing), I was, in any case, prepared to just to stay local. I found myself checking my email this morning, and saw a posting that changed my mind immediately. Within 10 minutes, I was out the door. Destination? Lake Michigan.

Late yesterday, a Western Grebe was sighted at Douglas Beach near Saugatuck. As the name might suggest, the bird is from "out west" as in Utah, or Wyoming or the like; not the "Western Great Lakes". While certainly not the first time this bird has been to Michigan, they are so often too far away (often Lake Superior) for me to even consider going to see them. This one was just 3 1/2 hours out and was still there the following day(this morning).

By 12:45, after driving through a few rain squalls, I find myself looking at my 337th bird for Michigan. Oh, but it did not come easy; well, at least not as easy as I was expecting. Upon arriving, I walked a few hundreds up the beach to be closer to the location it was seen this morning. Nothing. Realizing I should have my camera with me (I left it in the car) I started to walk back to the car. I did one final look - POW! - there it was! What the...?! So I enjoyed it a for a minute or two when I opted to head back. It had started to rain and my rain coat was, at the moment, a blanket for the camera. By the time I actually got to the car, it was raining hard. No use in bringing the camera, right? On goes the raincoat and off I go back to the beach to see it again. This time I was joined by the Laylins, a couple from the Lansing area. There it was...right where I left it. Now the rain has stopped, right? I should get my camera right? As I was walking back to the car (for the second time), I bumped in to Sean Bachman and Tex Wells (pictured at the left). I made sure they knew where the bird was as I continued to the car. Dump the scope. Grab the camera. Walk back down the beach (the third time). No grebe. Totally gone. Sean and Tex got it, but it evaporated soon thereafter. Poof. Gone. No photo op for me. We looked for it a few minutes longer, but it was not to be had. The swells were hardly big enough to hide a bird from multiple observers but that is exactly what happened!

I had actually planned to turn around and head straight home but I thought about it a bit more and figured lunch in the area would be fine and rewarding. Sean, by the way, is a Beer God (notice the use of capitals). The man knows his beer. His knowledge of the craft makes me look like a chump. As is often the case when we cross paths, we started talking shop. Ultimately, he suggested the Saugatuck Brewing Company. He had NOT been there (no way!) and was interested in what I might think.

I guess, all in all, it was okay. The new home is a former warehouse so it is very large and very spacious. If you like smaller, darker, more comfy places, uhhhhh, I'm not sure you will like the feel here. It is not bad, just not my vision of a brewery. That said, the bartender was very knowledgeable and even mentioned that the owner and the master brewer were both in the building and he could introduce me to them. Very nice! I did not take him up on it. Instead, I had some hummus as an appetizer and sampled two beers (they had ten to choose from!) - the Vienna Ale (#659) and the Butler Street Brown (#660). Of the two, the brown ale was much better. Wonderful caramel tones throughout. Medium-light body. Very well done. The ale, while good for some I suspect, was just too hoppy for me. I have had hops beers I have liked, but this one was not my style.

So what could be cooler than seeing a tough state bird and then having some good beers? How about a walk through the antique mall that is attached to the brewery! Same building! Sure, I'm atheist, but it was as close to heaven as I will ever get! Antiques and beer under the same roof? Coffee stuff was pretty limited, but I did manage a smaller vintage cardboard sign from Hulman and Company for my ongoing coffee collection.

The day could have been a bit better if I had a travel partner but it was not to be given the spontaneity of it all. Otherwise? For the day, a new state bird, two new beers and more coffee crap. Awesome. Really.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Overactive Imagination Part 2


Be-"fore" you know it. As in "forehead"! Ugh! A greasy forehead print!

But you can see it can't you! The skull?! I outlined it for you! What are the chances!? A skull! In a greasy print on a window.........during a Halloween walk!

It must mean something, right?! It just has to! The Skulls are looking out for me? Or maybe its the opposite. I'm cursed! Yeah, that's it!

I'm cursed!
Ohhhhh, what to do........

Monday, October 19, 2009

Overactive Imagination Part 1

Are you one one of those people that finds shapes in clouds? Nothing wrong with that, right? Or what about those people that see the Virgin Mary in a hospital window, a bird dropping, or a grilled cheese sandwich? (Um, nevermind those examples. Don't get me started.) Anyhow...knowing we all have seen crazy images because we all have overactive imaginations (in a healthy sort of way), I got a huge kick out of the picture below. Do you see what I see?


First, let me explain the image.

Every Halloween, with over 800 lit Jack O' Lanterns to guide the way, visitors can take a walk through Greenfield Village and meet creepy characters associated with Halloween, our coolest holiday. The Headless Horseman. Witches. Fortune Tellers. Ghost widows waiting for their long dead husbands (it was really a dude in a dress using a voice synthesizer, but work with me here, okay?).

The building is Edison's Menlo Park Complex. Is there a better way to make a building look spooky than to cast eerie green lights on the inside? I think not! Very cool! We were encouraged to check things out on the inside by peering in the window. As I got closer to the window pane, I began to see what is quite possibly the creepiest thing of the night. With my little point and shoot camera in the dark without a tripod, I did the best I could.

I'll post my interpretation tomorrow. That will get here be-"fore" you know it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bald and Handsome



It's hard to believe, but I had hair once.  In fact, I had long hair.  Well, things have certainly changed, right?  This handsome devil, a Turkey Vulture, was photographed yesterday at Lake Erie Metropark.

I wonder if he uses a Mach 3 like I do?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Arbor Brewing Company

So October means pumpkins, right?  So is there a better way to celebrate the coolest month of the year than with a brewery that is named after the coolest squash on the planet?

Well, that was the plan, anyway.  The Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter has now has a few locations scattered around where you can eat, drink and be merry.  The Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery in Ann Arbor would have been cool, I'm sure, but there was a little problem - a 90 minute wait!    You HAVE to be kidding me!  90 minutes?! Sure it was a Friday night in Ann Arbor, but still....90 minutes?  Ohhhhhh, what to do....





Right around the corner, on Washington Street, is the Arbor Brewing Company.   Knowing I liked some of their beers (not this one),  we figured this was a chance to see the whole show in action.

While enjoying a blackened chicken fettuccine in asiago cheese (!), the Big Ben House Mild (#651) hit the spot. Its light on the eyes (as far as we could tell in the dim light), but not on the tongue or nose. Well balanced but certainly hopped (it is a Pale Ale). Crisp. Beautiful lacing.  Pretty fair stuff.  3 out of 5 for sure (maybe more for some). The No Parking Pilsner (#652) was very well done.  It appeared golden in color (again - dim light) and demonstrated a nice, long-lasting head.  The hop finish was a little punchy but still made a for a great beer.  4 out of 5.  (Note - the above pic was ISO 200 f8 for 15 seconds (hence the striped ghost (the hostess!)) That is how dim it was! Good thing I had my Gorillapod!)

On top of having some very good beers, some decent food, and the coolest dining atmosphere I have seen in a long time, they are starting to "go green".  Like the Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland,  they buy local and organic, and make a lot of stuff from scratch. 

Good beer.  Great service. Friendly staff.  Cool place. Get there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A New Historic Photo

I suspect many of you have heard of the Titanic.  Over two thousand miles into her maiden voyage (from Enlgand to New York), she struck an iceberg and sunk. The loss of life shortly after midnight on April 14th, 1912 was huge -1,517 lives were lost in the bone-chilling waters of the North Atlantic.  

Almost a century later, we are still left answering questions.  What if Captain Smith had heeded the ice warnings?  What if the ship had struck the iceberg head-on instead of that glancing blow that ripped her open? What if she had enough life boats?  Was there really a mystery ship close enough to the disaster that it could have assisted in a rescue before the Carpathia arrived?  Would there have been enough time to implement a rescue? 

We are so often left with just questions...

One of the most eerie pictures I have ever seen is the one at the left.  It is said to be the last known picture of the doomed passenger liner as she steamed away into the history books (via Davy Jones Locker).  From a photography standpoint, I like it for the most part.  The ship is left of center (following the Rule of Thirds) and the horizon (though not level) is not cutting the scene into a top half and bottom half.   For me, the creepiest aspect of the photo is not what it shows, but we know happened afterwards.

Today at Lake Erie Metropark, I shot my own creepy, historic photo.  

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pseudo-Deja Vu...Twice

You know Deja vu, right? The eerie feeling that you are currently witnessing something that you feel you have already seen but you are not certain how you could have simply because the current situation is new?   In the past few days, I have had two huge episodes of what I might call "Pseudo-Deja Vu".  I have seen them before( and I know exactly when and how), but I still get a creeped-out feeling because I am watching it on TV.

In case you have been living in a bubble, Ken Burns has done it again.  You might recall a few years back, he did that Civil War documentary that was very well received by the public and historians alike.  Great stuff, right?  Well, his National Parks piece is every bit as cool.  While I have not seen all the episodes, I have seen snippets here and there. 

A few nights back, I was catching the final minutes of an episode.  They seemed to be showing some filler material before the next episode started.  The scene?  The Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park.   Perhaps you have seen the films of Grizzly Bears catching the salmon in mid-air as they jump up the falls during the spawning season?  If you have, it was shot here.  Back in 2004, I was there with my sister.  One bear in particular was very cool to watch. With what seemed a permanently "pouty" lip, she stood on the edge of the falls waiting for a salmon to jump.  If she missed the fish, she did a very noticeable "head throw" after the failed attempt.  You could almost hear her say "Ahhh, duck!" (except she wasn't saying "duck").  So guess which bear Burns highlights during his filming?

Tonight, a fellow was recounting his trip to many western parks with his family. He was highlighting an episode at Glacier National Park where he had driven to Logan Pass and took a walk with son to Hidden Lake.  To their surprise, a Mountain Goat wandered within a few feet of them.  The exact same thing happened to me when I was there in 2003.  Logan Pass.  Heading to Hidden Lake. Woah!  Gotta stop and give the right-of-way to the goat!

Pseudo- Deja vu. Twice. Cue the "Twilight Zone" theme, please....

A Theoretical Warning

Just a thought...purely theoretical, of course....

In the off chance that you have a cooler in the trunk of your car, you might consider either removing it or at least emptying it of the contents.  Just thinking out loud here, I suspect it would be possible that the cooler could tip and dump water into the trunk of one's car.  Now, for many, who cares, right? But for others, it would suck because I know some of you in blogland keep miscellaneous books and such in your car.  Wouldn't it be a drag if the cooler dumped and basically ruined...I don't know...50 bucks worth of books?

Again, this is all hypothetical. Really.  I'm just trying to watch out for all of you forgetful people...

Hmmmmm... good thing my Amazon account is still good......

 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chicken-Pumpkin Tacos with a Post Road Pumpkin Ale

Well, if you checked the calendar today, you saw that today is October 1st.  You know what means, right?  Stores are already selling Christmas stuff!  Tis the season!  It also means were are moving towards the single coolest holiday of the entire year - Halloween.  

What makes Halloween so cool? Scary (but fun) themes, cooler temps (a frost last night here in southeast Michigan), changing leaf colors (they don't really change color so much as they expose colors that were already there), the end of ragweed season (yay!) and, of course,  pumpkins. In the hands of crafty people, pumpkins can mean two things for sure: witty dinners and craft beer

Using "Pumpkin: A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year" (you can get it here), the Chicken-Pumpkin Tacos hit the spot. The Cliff Notes version of the recipe is this: use chicken, pumpkin, red peppers, and a small mix of onions, cumin, tomatoes, salt, hot sauce, cilantro, and chili powder for the filling.  Top it with cheddar cheese, sliced avocado, salsa and sour cream  in a flour tortilla,  and you have one hell of a meal.  Leftovers galore, too!   Pop 'em in the nuker and you  have food for the next few days.   If I weren't such a pig, I could easily get three days out of it. Careful with the filling, though. It does not take much to turn your taco into a super burrito.

Unfortunately, while the tacos were awesome, the Post Road Pumpkin Beer (#648) was a bit rough.  Brewed in Brooklyn, New York by the Brooklyn Brewery (no way!), you had better like spices if  you are going to give this one a go.  Cloves, allspice and cinnamon are all there and in big quantities.  In the aroma, the body,or the  finish, it doesn't matter - you can't escape it.   I really like beer to be a journey of the senses (smell, taste, and feel).  This beer is a journey of...cloves, allspice and cinnamon.  Also, that small limbo between the swallow and the finish was cluttered with a weirdness that is hard to describe.  You might think of it as acidic before it gives way to a bitter, somewhat icky completion.  The color, body, and head are all great, but the spices were simply overdone.  It is very unlikely you would want more than one.  On the best day, I can't give this a three out of five.

I guess you could say I had a Halloween-style dinner last night - a seasonal meal with a somewhat scary beer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Give Me Liberty!!!

Give me Liberty! 

Tucked away in the Olde Village section of Plymouth, the Liberty Street Brewing Company is well worth a visit.   Housed in a 100+ year old building, the brewing operation  itself is less than a year old. The inside looks brand-spankin' new, but, at the same time, has that "old pub" feel...in a modern way.  Confused?  Get there and you will see what I mean!  The combination of tile work on the tables, woodworking and recessed lighting at the bar, high ceiling, and color scheme makes for an awesome atmosphere.  Instant comfort. I still have no understanding of the ceramic squirrel on display in a brick recess in the men's room.  (I suspect there is a nut joke here somewhere, but I am going to stay away from it....)

Interestingly enough, while they do serve food, the most involved item on the menu is an 8" personal pizza.  They apparently can't manage big meals from their small kitchen. The solution?  They have an agreement with at least 10 different restaurants in Plymouth that will deliver!   Pizzas.  Subs.  Pastas from the local fancy-scmanzy place.  You can get it all. How cool is that?

Then, of course, there is the beer.  That's why they call it a brewery, right?  Even though they have only been open since late 2008, they already have a Gold Medal from the 2009 World Beer Expo Liberty House Pilsner (641), Blonde Ale (642), Red Glare Amber Ale (643), House Mild Brown (644), Clementine Lemon Thyme (645), Foreign Extra Stout (646), and Helles Yes (647) where all on tap.  Hands down, the best beers were the Stout, Pilsner, and Amber Ale.   (If you are a regular reader here, you know I love it when breweries have fun with names that reflect local themes.  The "Red Glare Amber Ale" is perfect given theme of liberty and independence.  They are on the right track but have some work to do here!)

For an after dinner warm-up, you can also get Green Mountain coffee, brewed one cup a time.  If you are not familiar with them, they are making steps to promote better coffee sustainability. Almost half of their coffee Fair Trade. While that alone is not up to snuff from a bird standpoint, it certainly beats a cup of slop from Folger's or Maxwell House!

Consider the Liberty Street Brewing Company for Life, Liberty and pursuit of Good Beer!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More Blog Fodder

I have not been out and about lately, but I have spending some time online (too much time, I suspect).  Anyhow, I bumbled into some websites that might be of interest to some of you.

One is called The Raptorphile and is posted by a buddy of mine from the greater Chicago area, Vic Berardi.  He has been a big player in the North American hawk circle for a few years.  He is quite the photographer, too.

I suspect some of that photography has rubbed off on his son, Steve.  Steve's blog, PhotoNaturalist is a killer! Not only does he take awesome photos, but he shows you some tricks of the trade. 

Check 'em out when you get a minute!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Morning Sun

A few days ago, I snapped this pic of this young Sharp-shinned Hawk catching a few morning rays of sunshine.  I think she would have enjoyed the spectacle a bit more if she had nailed that Blue Jay a few moments before....

A Few Birds Today

So with today being my last day off until well into next week, I opted to spend the bulk of the day at Lake Erie Metropark for the Detroit River Hawkwatch.   We saw a few birds...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Owl Predicted My Milestone Beer

Owls are just so awesome. Not only are they one hell of a predator, but the myths and legends that surround them can be very interesting reads and quite varied.

Depending on where you call home home, seeing one on the way to harvest will provide a good yield. Hearing one may mean a child will get sick or someone will die..unless you're a pregnant woman at which point you can expect a girl. For some, however, if you hear it while you are in labor, the child will live an unhappy life. In India, a broth made from owl eyes could be used to help a sick child. In Algeria, placing the eye of an owl in the hand of a sleeping woman will force her to tell the truth. Guess who believes that if an owl flies in your house, you have to kill it because it leaves with your luck? Yup. The Irish.

I think you get the point. I could go on forever.

But, I would rather start my own myth - if you hear a Great Horned Owl calling before sunrise in a suburban Detroit neighborhood, you will consume a milestone beer.

Actually, it is not a myth. It 's true. Really.

Yesterday morning, before sunrise, from the comfort of my warm bed, I heard the calling of a Great Horned Owl. Birders often describe the hoots of this particular bird as one asking a simple question: "Whoooo's awake. Meeeeeee, toooooo !" Seeing that it was 5am, I guess I got to answer the question "Meeeeeee dammit. Thaaaaaaaaanks alot!"

With dinner yesterday (parmesian chicken bake with julien potatoes), I "enjoyed" my 630th beer. What is the big deal with that number? 630 is now a point when my bird list and my beer list are the same! I never thought the day would come, but it is here - I have sampled as many beers as I have seen birds!

So what was the milestone beer?

The Hitachino Nest Beer from the Kiuchi Brewery in Japan got the call. Unfortunately, it was not worthy of such a milestone beer. It started good with a great look (cloudy straw yellow and a shortlived white head). Everything crashed when I smelled it. Lemon, lemon, lemon. On the palate? Guess what? More lemon with a titch of carbonation. The finish was dry, lemony,and tart. There was no suggestion of hops at any point. All in all, I think it could be described as a funny, watered-down, carbonated lemonade. 2 out of 5.

So why would I have chosen a sub-par beer for such a milestone? First, I did not know it was sub-par. Ultimately, I had something else in mind. I simply wanted to have a beer with a bird on the bottle. Nothing more. As you can see from the bottle cap, this fit the bill. I have had it in my fridge for over a week.

Tuesday was kinda interesting if you think about it. An owl in the morning. An owl in the evening. One was a bird. One was a bust.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Stuffed Grilled Chicken and Bananas Foster

Every once in a while, I found myself bumbling into recipe that is so damned good and so damned easy it makes me look like a professional chef.

Take a chicken breast and clean it (you should always to that). With it laid out on a cutting board, cut into the side and create a pocket like a pita pocket. Shove into said pocket a few sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and some basil leaves. With an oiled toothpick (I used simple vegetable oil), close up the pocket. While the grill warms up, marinate the breast in olive oil and lemon juice with liberal amounts of salt and pepper. Grill. Done. Delicious. Gone.

For a side dish, it was simply portobello mushrooms stuffed with cream cheese and spinach. Oh sure, at this point, I suspect I could tell you how I spent tons of time preparing them. The actual time involved was the time needed to swipe a card at the grocery store. Sure, they were ready to heat, but don't let that fool you. They were delicious, too.

Dessert was every bit as fabulous and every bit as easy to make. We need, by the way, to square away the name - Bananas Foster (not to be confused with Bananas in Fosters ( I can only imagine how gross that would be!)). While I did not torch the recipe, it was really damned good. Butter, brown sugar, a squeak of vanilla, and a shot of rum in the frying pan. Add some walnut and sliced bananas for a few minutes. Serve over vanilla ice cream. Damned good.


Of course, a full-fledged gourmet meal would not be complete with out a gourmet beer (read: non- junk). I have recently become a fan of saison style of beers, but, unfortunately, the Golden Cap (#628) from the New Holland Brewing Company does not pass muster. Well, let me take that back. It was horrible by any means ; it was just not as good as others of the same style. Average at best. A three.

The dessert beer paired with the Bananas Foster, as recommended by the cook book, was a Pale Ale. Stoudts Double IPA (#629), from the Stoudt's Brewing Company, got the call. An absolutely spectacular coppery color with a solid creamy feel on the palate. The light to moderate hop finish was subdued by the sweet of the sauce on the ice cream making for a solid after dinner beverage. A solid four out of 5.

Total prep time for the whole meal was in the order of minutes. Really. Easy and good.

Friday, September 4, 2009

They Moved The Goal Post!

Don't you hate it when you have a goal set in your mind and you almost meet that goal only to find out that you're really not even close?

Beginning in 1999, I opted the play role of every 4th grader in the country. I went out and bought one of those binders for the 50-State Quarter series that had been set up by the Treasury. I'm sure you have seen them, right? Each state gets its own quarter with some cool design that signifies that particular state (Michigan is the exception here. What an ugly coin...). Anyhow, over 10 years, all 50 states released their coin in the order in which they entered the Union. (On a related note, the Treasury is doing the same thing with the National Parks.)

Anyhow, I decided to make life difficult and get a state coin from each mint (either Philadelphia or Denver). So, instead of 50 quarters, I needed 100. It all had to be done with basically one simple rule - I can not go out and buy the quarter. In some cases, a trade was used to acquire a needed coin or people where operating as...well, operatives and looking, too. I just can't buy the coin. Up until a week ago, I was almost done. I only needed the Denver mint Alaska quarter.

I was complaining to a buddy of mine about how hard it has been to secure that 100th coin. So, yesterday, he brings me a little envelope when I was in the parking lot. Some people might have looked at that little package and the circumstances and thought "Cool! Drugs!" but, that is not my thing. This particular envelope was quite heavy. I dump the contents in to my hand and voila, there it sits - the Alaska quarter from the Denver mint. Coin #100. Woo-hooh! Mission accomplished, right?

Wrong.

The envelope was rather heavy because it was stuffed with a few other quarters - Samoa, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Washington D.C. with both mints accounted for.

Huh? Well, it turns out somewhere in the last 10 years the Treasury department decided to include the United States Territories, as well. So, I acquired #100 only to find out that I now need to get 112 coins. The goal posts got moved. I hate that. I will now be on the lookout for the US Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands coins. Then I'm done. I think........

Oh, speaking like a lawyer or politician, Mike's gift does not violate my rule. I said I can't buy them. The rule doesn't say anything about someone else buying them and giving them to me as a gift.

By the way, guess what the US Territory quarters cost if you buy them from a coin shop?

Fifty cents a piece.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nailed It

I spent some more time at the Detroit River Hawkwatch today. The season started just yesterday. One advantage of having a hawk count on a lake shore is the opportunity to watch Osprey hunt.

As a fish eater, they soar in lazy circles or hover over water when it is meal time. When a fish is located, they simply crash into the water feet first. If they manage to actually grab it (they miss quite a bit), huge talons (I mean huge!) and rough soles on the feet help them hold on tight. They can even re-position their outer toe to improve their grip. (You can do that, too. Lay your hand flat on the table. Take your pinky and bend it back towards your wrist. Okay...nevermind. I was kidding. If you heard a popping sound, call a doctor.)

This bird did a bang-up job of nailing this fish. There was no hovering. As she(?) was cruising up the creek (maybe 30 feet off the water), all forward momentum suddenly stopped, the body was repositioned for entry, and she crashed right in. Unfortunately, she was just a bit beyond the reach of my lens (I use a 100-400mm f5.6). When possible, I try to ID the fish, too. While this pic does not clearly show it, the fish may be a steelhead.