Friday, June 26, 2009

Now You Know

I got an email from my buddy Bruce the other day. It was this link to a site that runs through photos of all the National Parks. Go to it , take a few minutes and relax.

Now you know why I love vacations!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Live Long And Prosper

When temps around here get hot and humidity is through the roof, it is not unusual for me stay indoors, or head somewhere else that is indoors. So, after a quick breakfast in Wyandottte, we beamed over to the Star Trek exhibit at the Detroit Science Center.

Spanning over 40 years, 10 movies, and five television series, it was a real treat. Sitting on the mock-up of the Enterprise's bridge (from the original series) was pretty cool really. The captain's chair was every bit as uncomfortable as you would expect. (I refused to pay the technician $20 to get my picture sitting in it.) The corridor from the Enterprise (the Next Generation) was awesome. It was straight out of the movie/series. Very well done. Oh, and don't forget the Borg Cube.

Getting a good impression of how Gene Roddenberry was such a visionary was so cool. Not only did he tackle race relations, but he really ran with his visions of technology. What we use today as flip phones, those annoying blue-tooth head piece things, and Palm pilots were seen by Roddenberry decades ago as communicators, Uhura's earpiece, and those...those thingies that look like big Palm Pilots. Incredible guy.

The coolest part of the exhibit was a neat piece of trivia I had never heard. No, not the Star-Trek-fans-wrote-NASA-so-the-first-shuttle-can-be-the-Enterprise story (everybody knows that one). It turns out James Doohan (Scotty) was a veteran of D-Day. He stormed Normandy (Juno Beach)! During the invasion he was shot multiple times by a nervous sentry and ultimately lost the middle finger on his right hand. He made every effort to conceal the missing digit but in some scenes here and there, you can see he only has nine fingers. Looks like he literally, and figuratively, gave the Nazis the finger.

Some parts of the exhibit were a disappointment. Why do I really want to see a reproduction of movie prop from the 1960's. A reproduction of a prop? Come on.

Some other aspects of the exhibit were hugely silly. Sorry folks, but the transporter room "beaming thing" is really quite dumb. (Okay, maybe if you are 10, watching yourself getting beamed is pretty cool. But, after walking around for a few minutes, I felt like I was at least 11, so I didn't think it was so cool. ) Anyhow, after I entered the transporter room, I was asked if I wanted to beamed somewhere.
"Would you like to beamed somewhere?"
"Uhhhhhhh.............okay, I guess........"
"Okay. How about Jupiter?"
Jupiter? Everybody knows that transporters where only capable of ship-to-ship or ship-to-planet travel! A transporter could NOT transport me 365 million miles away! How insulting. Unfortunately, I left my phaser at home so I couldn't drop her like sack of potatoes and throw her in the brig. People can die when transporter technicians are incompetent. Jupiter......give me a break......

In hindsight, I wished we had asked to be transported to the brewery. It was a few blocks to walk and it was quite hot. It was easily within range.

So, what was at the Detroit Beer Company? Romulan Ale? No. Ale. Specifically, the Baseball Beer (#585). It was just like the bartender said - a mild India Pale Ale that would be ideal for people transitioning from junk beer to craft beers. Everything about it was a step back from what I would expect. The hops were certainly there, but much more toned down. It was more like a nibble than a bite. Even with the step down, everything maintained a good balance. A good beer! 4 out of 5! (They have a killer spinach and artichoke dip, by the way!)

After dinner, we simply parked ourselves (our bottoms actually) on West Jefferson in downtown Detroit for the fireworks. It was simply the best fireworks show I have ever seen. Non-stop fireworks for half an hour. Big ones. Little ones. The kind you feel (you know the kind where the explosion is huge and you know it is going to be loud but you have to wait for it.......then BAM!!!! ) I love those kind! They even managed to design some that exploded into little hearts. I have never seen such a thing!

Unfortunately, it took almost 2 hours to get home. With I-75 totally ripped out (Romulan terrorists), traffic that normally flows slow was even slower. If only we had taken my Klingon Bird-of-Prey instead of a Saturn Aura. We would have been home faster than you can say 'IqnaH Qad. (That apparently means "dried mucus" in Klingon. I'm not kidding.....)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

#584 And A Soapbax

Two nights ago, I sampled my 584th beer. It was from the The Firehouse Brewing Company in San Diego, California. I bought a six-pack at my local grocery store.

I was all ready to write, with a chuckle, how little I thought of the beer. It was a hefewiezen with unfortunately no head, no taste, no finish and an aroma that was akin to either nothing or light citrusy feet (or something like that). I was prepared to tell you not to buy this beer because there is better stuff out that there...blah blah blah.

Well, when I was cleaning up around my kitchen tonight, something caught my eye on the bottle: "World-class beer for a world-wide cause".

After checking their website, I feel like a total schmucko.

It turns out the Firehouse is not named after the building the brewery once occupied (an approach, by the way, which always scores points in my beer world - local connections and local names). No, it turns out the Firehouse Brewing Company was started by firefighters, brewed by firefighters for fallen firefighters and their families.

A passage from their site reads as follows:
Founded by third generation firefighters and the tragic events of 9/11, the Firehouse Brewing Company is dedicated to providing great beer for a great cause. A portion of the proceeds go to support local firefighter widow and orphan funds and to local fire departments to buy safety equipment.
So, lets be honest. Was the beer good? No. Would I buy it again. Quite possibly. First, I can't rule out the possibility that the pack was a bad pack. There is room for mistakes between bottling and consumption. I need to consider the fact the beer was tainted and I should probably re-evaluate it.

Second, my purchase helps them helps others. I looked over their website. It goes way beyond the "fill the boot" drives. They do golf outings , concerts, and all that jazz all in the name of raising money. They co-sponsor mega events with mega groups like the Make A Wish Foundation, the MDA, and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The money apparently goes to the Firehouse Foundation, the 501(C)3 non-profit organization who distributes the money to families of firefighters seriously injured or killed in the line of duty.

We have to remember who these people are. They cut you out of car after a serious wreck. They run into your burning house when you are running out of it. Ultimately, they may be called upon to do a lot more than just make sure their firetruck is polished.

My very cool baseball cap will on its way shortly. I'm doing a small part. Do yours.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 16 - "Slide"ing Home

My alarm was set to go off at 3:45 but I was awake by 3:30. By 4:30, I was on the trailhead of Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills (4200 feet above sea level).

My target species? Bicknell's Thrush. The Cliff Notes version of the story goes like this, okay? They were first described by an amateur ornithologist, named Bicknell, who collected one, on Slide Mountain, in the late 19th century. Other scientists came along and said “No, sorry, it is not a new species. It is really a Gray-cheeked Thrush.” In the last decade or so, the evidence has piled on that says “yes” it is a different species. (For the record, the Catskills are not the only place in the eastern part of the continent you can find them. All of your taller peaks in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have them. I just found that the Catskills would be the easiest mountains to work into this trip.)Of course, with such limited range, it automatically became a very rare bird once it was decided that it was truly a unique species. That means birders like me have to go get it.

I tried to remember what time it was when I reached the summit, but I don't recall. Suffice to say, it was pretty damned early. As the altitude changes, the vegetation changes along with it and therefore the birds. By the time I was at the top, the coniferous vegetation favored Winter Wrens, White-throated Sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. The Blackpoll Warblers were a treat, too.

Significant parts of the trail are really rock-and-root scrambles (with the occasional creek crossing). Very few sections of the trail were “flat”. Tennis shoes would be the death of you. While the sun was starting to lighten things up at tad at 4:30, it was still very dark in the woods. Forget the headlamp. I had a giant Mag-Lite! By the time I reached the top (a 2.7 mile hike with a 1780 foot altitude change), I had to put my sweatshirt back on. It was a bit chilly and low-lying clouds made it sort of damp, too. Before long, I found myself playing stupid 'cat-and-mouse games' with a thrush. Finally, there it was – for the briefest moment – Bicknell's Thrush! Ha! #630! I will flat out admit it was not the most rewarding look I have ever had at a life bird, but it was certainly good enough to make the call. I had the option of continuing to track it and get more looks, but opted out. It was breeding season, and I saw what I needed to see.

One of the coolest parts of the whole morning was not seeing the bird (barely), but simply seeing no one. For all intents and purposes, I had that entire mountain to myself. Most of the time, I was not hearing anything that suggested that I shared the planet, let alone the mountain, with anybody else. The wind. Some birds singing. My boots on the rocks. The occasional insect (which were absent for the most part). Other than that – dead silence. Incredible. I am very glad I took that moment when I first had a nice vista to soak it in. The mountains were shrouded in clouds, so there was that feeling of being one of those climbers you so often see pictured on the summit of Everest – the world below you and nothing else above you. Granted, there is a huge difference between Slide and Everest, but I think you get my point. Also, prominent early 20th century naturalist John Burroughs spent a lot of time of Slide and it influenced his writings. I can see why. There is even a plaque commemorating him at the top. Any way you cut it, it was an awesome morning.

I took my time coming down the mountain. Contrary to popular belief, coming down a mountain is not easier than going up. It is just as challenging (if not more), but in a different way. Your muscles ache going up because you use them to hoist yourself to the next level. Your joints ache on the way down as they take the brunt of that “deep step”. For the record, you also had better have your thinking cap on. If you are ascending and you fall, you fall forward and there you are. However, if you are descending and you fall, you could in trouble. Think of it like stairs. Would you rather trip going up or stumble coming down? Falling ass-over-applecart down a stretch of rocks does not sound like fun to me!

The birds at the lower elevations included Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers. Ovenbirds where in abundance (again) and Least Flycatchers in the parking lot. A Black-and-white Warbler song once and I flushed a Ruffed Grouse at one point (well, I didn’t “flush it”. I disturbed it and it flew away!)

I was off the mountain at noon. What did I do with the rest of my day? I went home. Home home. As in metro Detroit. Yup – a straight shot. By this point, I knew rain was coming. I had blown my budget out of the water and my three target birds were under my belt. So, I plotted a course from the Catskill Mountains to Detroit. I was home by 11pm.

One highlight along the way was still in the Catskills. My GPS took me over a mountain top (certainly not as high as Slide). The whole top and been clearcut and was now accommodating tall grasses and wildflowers. I spied a sparrow on a sign and stopped to get a better look. I was rewarded with a nice look at a Savannah Sparrow. But in putting the windows down, I was rewarded with songs and flights of Bobolink! The field was full of them!

Details are as follows -
Life birds for the trip- 3
Birds for the trip - 126
Total bird ticks for the trip (sum of all states) - 235
Total bird ticks - 3,971
Life birds – 630

Life beers on trip - 10
Life beers – 583

Total Miles Driven- 2,795
Total States Visited- 9 (10 if you count Washington DC)
Total NPS Sites Visited- 7

State Checklists:
Delaware – 75
Maryland – 64
New Jersey – 79
New York - 110
North Carolina – 108
Ohio – 220
Pennsylvania – 45
Virginia – 83
Washington DC – 19
West Virginia – 16

Next trip? Unknown at this time, but it may be Wyoming in December for some hunting... Traveling to the that part of the country in the winter should be an opportunity to add some states birds. We'll see!

June 15 - From Stonewalls To Stone Mountains

Morning showers greeted me. By 7am, I was at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine. He died here on May 10th, 1863 (from pneumonia, by the way). The original home, well, an office for a plantation actually, still stands. I managed a photo or two the rain, but that was it. The grounds of the shrine were guarded by Guinea Fowl. At least half a dozen ran around squawking up a storm. (Interestingly, the closest town in Guinea Station!)

Jackson is considered one of the greatest generals ever. (For the time being, I will ignore the fact that for years, people thought Jackson was a total fruitloop. He sat bolt upright in chairs because he did not want to touch the back and was prone to, at any random moment, hold his arm over his head for extended periods of time to improve his circulation (he was convinced said arm was longer than the other). On a serious note, modern psychologists suggest he may have had Asperger's Syndrome, a type of autism. Hmmm. A possible case of autism at a time that pre-dates modern immunizations. Jenny McCarty – are you reading this?! ) His loss, quite possibly, cost the Confederacy the war. A thought some people consider is this - if Jackson had not died, the outcome of Gettysburg could have been different. If they won Gettysburg, the war would have taken a totally different course. That is not to say there would be a Confederate States of America in 2009, but things certainly would have been different. There is not telling how, but it would have been very different, I'm sure. I think that is one of things I enjoyed about history – those amazing little moments that change the course of history.

From there, I slipped off to Chancellorsville National Battlefield. In May of 1863, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson pulled off one of the greatest Confederate victories of war. Hopelessly outnumbered, they split the army and managed to route the Union. It came at a price – Jackson was shot on accident, while doing his own nighttime reconnaissance, by his own troops and later died (at the previously mentioned location). The actual location is still known...and I was there. The picture on the left is the location where he was shot.

I found the birding here some of the best of any battlefield. The big woodlots were full of (and I mean “full of”!) Ovenbirds. Eastern Wood-pewees were easy to come by. A Northern Parula was near Catherine’s Furnace. Red-eyed Vireos were everywhere, too.

With that, shortly before lunch, I plotted a course to New York, specifically the Catskills. My GPS actually took me through the northwest corner of Delaware and the northern part of New Jersey. Unfortunately, by this point, the rain was hard enough were “expressway birding” was not possible. Besides, I had already birded these states before (Delaware a few days back and New Jersey a bit in the fall of 1999) so I likely would not have added anything new at 70mph. I also blew right past Washington DC. As I rounded the bend on the expressway (lunch traffic runs just fine) I found myself gazing at the Washington Monument and the Capital Building. I need to get back to that town. Very cool place! I was there in 2002. (I have to get the National History Museum. They have, on display, a 22 inch oak tree stump. The tree itself was cut down by small arms fire at the Bloody Angle from Spotsylvania Court House - a testament to the gruesome fighting that took place there).

Anyhow, by 7:30pm, I had checked into my hotel (the Cobblestone Motel) in Phoenicia, New York, and confirmed the location of my trailhead (thanks to the attendant at the campground). Dinner was at Al's Seafood where the owner proudly walks around with his little fru-fru dog. As I understand it, unless your dog assists the blind, you can't have them in a place that serves food. I don't gather that fru-frus are trained for that sort of thing. It certainly could bring a new meaning to the phrase “Waiter, there is a hair in my soup.” Well, whatever. I turned in early knowing I had an early start the next day...

June 14 - Forefathers

Once again, I violated my “local eats only” protocol and paid the price. A quick bite at Denny's for breakfast was a bust. Service was slow and the eggs were undercooked (come on!). In fact, at one point, I noticed a very, very, very old gentleman waiting at the table next to me. He was dressed in gray and mentioned that he needed to get back the front to repel Burnside's assault at the Stone Wall. Here he is over a century later and he STILL hadn't received his grits. I'm lucky I got mine when I did!

The battle of Fredericksburg is another great example of why idiots should not be in charge. Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac (the Union) and fresh off some previous idiocy at Antietam (they named a bridge after his stupidity), thought it was a swell idea to send thousands of men across an open field pocked with canals and fences and then up an incline in the face of Confederates who where entrenched behind a stone wall with nine cannon in support. When the first assault was cut to pieces (duh!), he rationalized that the second try would be successful. He thought the same for third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth attempts. Thousands were dead or wounded. Not one soldier made it to the wall. Burnside volunteered to lead the final assault but his men talked him out of it. Lincoln accepted his resignation. (Burnside, for the recored, never wanted to be the head of the Army of the Potomac. He had declined the offer twice already. He finally took the position only to prevent someone else from getting it. While a likable guy according to some, a lot of men died because he was basically a dufous.)

Portions of the original stone wall still exist (at left), as does a now unoccupied home used as a Confederate HQ (the marine who was with us during the tour was stunned when he realized the HQ was in front of the line. Welcome to the American Civil War!). It still has some original lumber and therefore original bullet holes from 1862. The program led by the Park Interpreter was very well done. Wow, those interpreters – they know everything.

It was my intention to drive a bit around Fredericksburg a bit on the NPS driving tour. (This town, by the way, is pretty slick. I managed to stay out of dozens of antique stores, many of which occupy buildings that were around to witness the battle in 1862. The bullet holes in the walls prove it.) I first went to Chatham (a NPS site), the site of an awesome house that stood during the battle (and can be seen in the old photos). After watching (and hearing) an actual cannon firing demo (with only half the powder, I might add), I realized I was getting a bit hungry. Hmmmm.

How about the Capital Ale House?! What a great idea!

Folks, if you are into beers like I am, this place is a must. I can't believe what I saw. Over 30 PAGES of beers were on the menu. Thirty! Over 350 different bottles and dozens of tap. It makes Old Chicago and Oak Cafe look like party stores. Have you seen that beer commercial by Heinken with the woman who walk into the closet with all the shoes and then you see the guys walk into the closet with all the beer? It was THAT MUCH beer from all around the world! I almost did the scream and dance like the commercial guys, but I held back. It was a beer guy's Valhalla. Along with my black bean burger, I enjoyed the Blue & Gray Brewing Company's James River Pale Ale (#579). All in all, an average Pale Ale. Great eating atmosphere too. I was fired up for the Stout as well, but it came in a 22 ounce bottle! Wow! That is a lot of beer. So instead, I got the Starr Hill Brewing Company Amber Ale (#580). (It was at this point that I illustrated extreme beer dorkitude. “Are you sure you want it?” she asked? “Well, let me check” as I scrolled through hundreds of beers in my database stored safely on my Netbook). A solid amber ale. Four out of five. Good malty tones throughout with nice balance and body. A super beer for a hot summer day.

After lunch, I drifted over to a pottery store. A vacation goal of mine is to secure a locally crafted ceramic coffee mug from a “destination state”. I now can add Virginia to my collection which already contains Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Montana, and Texas.

I soon drifted my way to the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. In May of 1864, 10-13,000 casualties were tallied. For me? I had the opportunity to do something not a whole lot of people get to do...

My mom traces our family history. Through her efforts, we now know that an ancestor, Byron (or Bryan) Buck was a soldier with the 4th North Carolina Infantry. He is my great-great grandfather. It turns out he survived the war (otherwise I would not be here, right?). While he survived the war, he did not do so intact. He lost his right hand at one of the bloodiest hand-to-hand engagements of the Civil War. Gettysburg? No. Antietam? No. Spotsylvania Court House. It was May in 1864.

With the efforts of the park staff (who, in the case of the park interpreter, recognized, with me, a simple fact – Seinfeld is a very dumb show), they were able to show me exactly where his unit fought. (Wow. Again, park interpreters showed me that they know everything!) I found myself not just on the battlefield, but the exact portion of the battlefield in which his unit fought. To this day, some of the Confederate trenches he likely occupied, at a horribly location known to history as the “Mule Shoe salient” (at the Bloody Angle), still exist (at left). It was here that some of the bloodiest fighting on American soil took place. There is even a monument to his brigade's leader (Stephen Ramseur). I can certainly say that we will never know his exact footsteps on that day, but I can at least see trenches that were occupied by members of his regiment, perhaps even him. Incredible - to say the least.

For the record, a "salient" is something that projects from a line or a surface. or something that stands out conspicuously. From a military standpoint, if you have your troops in a straight line and one group comes forward and forms a "bubble" (or in this case, a "mule shoe"), you have a problem. Defending a salient? You simply don't want to be in that position, because you can not get all of your firepower to fire in the same direction. Ultimately, my great-great-grandfather had to bust his butt to stay alive because the powers-that-be created an awkward defensive position.

Elsewhere, somehow, I managed to miss the monument to a Colonel John Sedgwick. His final words are so often quoted in the annals of the Civil War. During the battle, his men were flinching with the constant peppering of sniper fire. Aggravated, he chewed them out, finishing with “They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance!” Seconds later, he fell off his horse with a bullet inconveniently lodged in his head. As a Corps commander, he was the highest ranking Union casualty of the war.

Realizing that I needed to continue to feed my Civil War addiction, I opted to stay in town for another night. For the first time in days, the weather seemed to be accommodating for camping but I was not up for it. I had a date. A second date, in fact, with the Capital Ale house.

I saw earlier in the day that the parking in this town can be tough. I opted for a cab. My smoking, toothless cabbie (I'm not joking) got me there in no time. With the previously mentioned thirty pages of beer to choose from, I gave my waiter the rundown : locally brewed beers only minus the few I had already had. With my shrimp and crab linguini, the Legend Brewing Company Pilsner (#581) was a super addition. Ultimately, it was like no other pilsner. Very, well, flavorful. For an after dinner drink, the Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout (#582) was, well, a bit over done. The oak barrel part was okay but with the vanilla beer it was a bit over powering. The dessert beer was the Summer Ale (#583) from the St. George Brewing Company. A sub-par summer ale. Two out of five.

It is also worth noting that, by this point, most of my mosquito bites (there were many) had transformed into those nasty callous-like red globs (kinda like smallpox), really lessening my interests in camping. Ugh. To add insult to injury, while at the Ale House, I simply moved my netbook a bit on the table in front of me while a wayward wasp managed to be between my finger and the computer. Pow! That “cigarette burn” feel shot through my finger. Needless to say, I got him back with a stinger of my own - the 30-page beer menu...

June 13 - Birds And Battlefields

After a quick breakfast in Rehoboth Beach, I opted for the long, tiring drive to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Whew. Five minutes later, I was there (Delaware is the size of two postage stamps; Rhode Island is apparently one stamp). What a slick piece of property. Tidal areas, grasslands, mature woodlots and beaches. Very cool! I managed about 70 species in just a few hours of work and without walking a single trail (I was really getting tired of flies and skeeters). Highlights for me included Willet, Seaside Sparrow, Black-necked Stilt, Black Skimmer, Least Tern, and Blue Grosbeak. A super highlight was another look at a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

At one point, I found myself having a conversation with a fisherman. He asked what I was looking at. I told him I was looking for birds. (You can see where this is going, can't you?)
“Oh yeah,” he said, “this place is great for birds! See this stuff right here? Orioles love it! They are all over the place!”
“There's one now!” he said confidently, pointing to a Red-winged Blackbird...

I also had a chance to be a hero – yes, I'm gonna brag here. Delaware Bay, as some of you know, is a great place for shorebirds. In short, some of them stop to feed there on the eggs of horseshoe crabs during their spring migration. So, in May and June, the beaches are covered with these prehistoric beasts for spawning. This morning, I found dozens of them all upside down. Apparently the tide flips them over and they can't right themselves. They are not dead; just stuck and helpless. So, I found a phonebooth (a hard thing to come by nowadays), removed my glasses, and stripped off all my clothes. I then spent about 15 minutes tipping them back over. In some cases, I carried them to the water. These things are in big trouble and that means big trouble for the Red Knot, a shorebird dependent on them for survival. So, I did my part. (Apparently, some of the crabs just don’t get it. They bumble and fumble. Take the one on the left, for example. )

After a few hours of birding, I was looking at the calendar and starting to feel a bit rambunctious. I had planned on spending a full day in Delaware, but I was starting to reconsider the agenda. Ultimately, I opted to leave the state after only a half day and plotted a course for Fredericksburg, Virginia. A nasty thunderstorm was a sign of things to come.

I couldn't help but to swing in to an antique mall in Millsboro. I managed to land two news coffee tins and a real sweet purchase of the Universal #109. Original drawer. Minimal dings on the japanned metal. 30 bucks! Deal! Total deal I tell you! I already have a #109 at home (with a different label) but it is missing some parts and is very dinged up. This is a solid replacement buy. I can probably hock the old one on Ebay for a more than the $10 I paid for it.

Before long, I found myself at Yorktown. Not the Yorktown, the aircraft carrier, Yorktown Battlefield. (For the record, earlier United States naval aircraft carriers were named after some Revolutionary War battles, including Saratoga, Lexington, and Yorktown.) You likely know the story from your history classes. The British were holed up in Yorktown. The combined forces of the United States and France, under George Washington, laid siege and defeated them. That pretty much ended the Revolutionary War and allowed the newly formed United States of America it's independence from Great Britain. (at least until the War of 1812). Anyhow, they had tour of the battlefield,etc. You know the “drill.” A highlight was the interpretive center where they had a display centered around Washington's tent. They had the tent. The walls were re-do's, but the tent roof was an actual tent that he slept under (he, of course, slept under a few tents in his career). They also had the field desk used by General Cornwallis. Anyway you look at it – very cool!

More evening storms dashed my hopes of camping again. Days Inn was it for the night. Normally, I am interested in getting the local fare and seeing “how they do things”. So what did I do? I just opted for the Ruby Tuesday next to the hotel. Let the record show, I passed up the opportunity to visit a beer bar, the Capital Ale House, in downtown Fredericksburg. It looks like it could have been pretty good, but I just was not fired up for going there. I was tired and I did not feel like dealing with logistics.

All was not lost. I managed a new beer (#578). The Turbodog Brown Ale by the Abita Brewing Company. Not bad. It poured like a Coke with a rich caramel aroma. The finish was quite smooth with more of those coffee/chocolate tones. I'd get it again.

June 12 - Sparrows and Ales

A quick cruise of Kiptopeke after I broke down camp in the morning did not turn up much. I opted to head out to Truitt's Landing in Maryland (pictured at left). Following up on some tips from Cathy Carroll, I headed to this spot for possible trip life bird #2. The sandy road took me to the beach where I hoped to find Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Within minutes, Seaside Sparrows and Willets were noted. About 10 minutes in, I spotted a sparrow flying low. It landed on a stubby twig and was joined by another. Both sparrows. Orangish triangle around the gray cheek! Streaking on the chest! Bingo! Life bird #629! I was hoping for a better study of the bird, but they never cooperated. My view, through a scope, lasted perhaps 3-5 seconds. That is actually pretty good, I guess, given their secretive nature.

The next stop was Assateague National Seashore. I had aspirations of walking the beach for hours, but the skies continued to look threatening and I did not want to wander to far from my car. Ultimately, the weather was the least of my trouble. The Saltmarsh Mosquitoes were far above the worst of my troubles. In seconds, no less than a dozen where on me. Bad news. I did not spend more than 1hour there.

During my drive, I managed to spy the famed horses of Assateague Island. A small group runs wild on the island. Legend says they swam ashore from a sunken ship centuries ago, but reality says they are leftovers from ranching operations a few centuries ago. I saw first one eating grasses along the edge of the parking lot. Yippee. Rather anti-climactic. The literature suggests you have to be lucky to see them. I practically hit one with my car. Horses are certainly cool, but...

As I approached the bridge, the vehicle in oncoming traffic pointed to a “rock” in the road. It was a turtle. I did my duty and got “it” (likely a female) of the road. I spied a Least Tern with a quick glance while crossing the bridge.

A short time later, I was in Delaware. Never in my life had I been here. A life goal is to visit all 50 states, so here is another one under my belt. What remains? Only Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, Alabama, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

I eventually found myself at Cape Henlopen State Park. All in all, pretty quiet. Some fortunate timing on my part got me my “Delaware Ruby-throated Hummingbird”. Otherwise, I did not find it particularly birdy in late afternoon. The World War II observation tower really yielded a wonderful of the area. "Only" 75 feet tall, it was set up after WW II started to help shore batteries zero in on targets (through triangulation) in the event of an invasion.

For lodging (again with issues of thunderstorms),I got a hotel room a few blocks off of Rehoboth Beach. Normally, I would not pay what I paid, but she gave me a double AAA discount (must have been my dashingly handsome good looks, huh?). So what was the catch? What just happens to be next door? The Dogfish Head Brewing Company. This will certainly rank as a highlight of my trip! The crab dip appetizer was great. The shrimp with basil petso and feta cheese pizza was pretty good, too. But really – I didn't drive over a thousand miles for a crustacean on dough.

Two of the three beers were excellent. Aprihop was akin to the Magic Hat Brewing Company's #9. I am not sure who started the apricot thing but they both pull it off well. The Festina Peche was a bit of a downer. It looked good, but it all ended there. Taste was light and aroma was pretty week. That one needs some work. Both were seasonal birds (not available year round, so I wanted to get them while I could). 120 Minute IPA can be hard to come by and was the best of the night. For that matter, it is quite possibly one of the best beers I have ever had. I was floored. It comes in a little brandy snifter. The aroma, the taste, the texture, the finish – it is all there. Interestingly enough, it did not strike me as being really “hoppy” like one would expect with an IPA with 120 IBUs. In any case, who cares. Get one if you can!

June 11 - Craters And Lost Forts

Why Petersburg, you may ask? A quick breakfast followed by a drive to Petersburg National Battlefield. A quick review of your American Civil War shows that while Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, Petersburg was the guts behind the operation. If Petersburg fell, Richmond would follow and then the Confederacy would fold. Grant knew it. Lee knew it, too. So, both made an effort to “own” the place.

It was a siege that lasted for almost 10 months. Thousands died (some of whom are list at the left. They were trained in artillery but had to the fill the role of infantry. Huge losses, as you might expect). At one point, long hours lead to straying minds. A Pennsylvania miner/soldier joked about tunneling under the Confederate lines and blowing it up. So, guess what they did? The tunneled under it and blew it up. If you saw the movie Cold Harbor, the opening scene it what we know of today as The Crater. The Union dug a tunnel 500+ feet long with ventilation shafts. 8000 pounds of gunpowder. Boom! A huge hole opened up killing hundreds of Confederates. Unfortunately, the Union unit that was supposed to go into breech (and had been training for weeks) was pulled out at the last minute. Others went in. That was the problem – they went in the hole instead of around it. What started out as an impressive feat of engineering and warfare turned into a boondoggle. The siege continued. Eventually, Petersburg fell. A few days later, Richmond fell. A few days later yet, the American Civil War was over. (The picture at the left it what remains of The Crater. Remember, this was almost 15o years ago. Time has filled it in.)

Birds on the battlefield were a little light. Eastern Meadowlarks by the Crater, Pewees in the larger woods, and once again, an Eastern Bluebird nesting in a cannon. (Which brings me to a point - perhaps instead of setting up bluebird boxes, everybody could put cannons in their front yard! Yeah! Think my condo association would mind?)

After dinking around for a bit, I found myself heading to the Jamestown Settlement. I was there ready to buy a ticket when I realized I was at the wrong spot. I wanted Historic Jamestown, a National Park Service site (under Colonial National Park). The other, a large and well done operation, is a private thing. The NPS site is the actual site. The real deal from 1608. Archaeologists were digging everywhere. Home foundations. Wells. They even found the original location of the original fort (something that had been lost to ages). Awesome stuff.

Being on the water, the birds took on a ocean/water sort of feel. Osprey seemed common and I even saw a Bald Eagle (the only one for the trip). Fish Crows, with their “American Crow with a head cold” sort of call, were everywhere.

By 5pm, I opted to get back into bird mode and head over to Kiptopeke State Park, on the Delmarva Peninsula, for the night. I needed be along the Atlantic Coast for my next target bird. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is a total trip! Kiptopeke seems like a pretty cool place but by the time I got there, set up camp and ate, it was dark. Nighthawks called at sunset. After dark, the Chuck-wills-widows started. The shade and cool ocean breezes made for a nice evening. Of course, pulling that tick off my leg was no fun. If I get really sick in 14 days, we will know why!

June 10 - The Great Pumpkin

Beautiful rolling hills/mountains totally tree-covered though they were hard to see in the early morning fog (I was on the road by 6am). No wonder they seceded from the rest of Virginia. I found the hills a bit deceptive. On multiple occasions I found myself asking “Why is my car taking these turns so funny?!” “Oh, its one of those funky shallow declines that your eyes have a hard time seeing and I am going 180 miles per hour!” Okay, not that fast, but you get the point.

My destination was Weymouth Woods in south central North Carolina. For the third time, I was making a try for Bachman's Sparrow. Longleaf Pine is the dominant tree. It was hot, sandy, and that “piney” smell was excellent. The property is managed (controlled burns) for Red-cockaded Woodpecker but the sparrows move right in after the burn is done. I had been to Weymouth on June 10th, 2009, but torrential rains minutes after my arrival prevented me from finding the sparrow. Arkansas was a bust last year (not enough time on site). So, upon my arrival at 11:30, what did I hear? Thunder. I asked the interpreter on staff about expected storms. “Don't worry – that is coming from Fort Bragg”. Oh. I covered the area where I had been told by the staff the bird would be, but after a few hours, Bachman's Sparrow was beginning to seem more like a Bachman's Warbler (extinct since the 1950's) Other cool birds here include Red-cockaded Woodpecker (visible from my car), Brown-headed Nuthatch (very noisy), Fish Crow, Pine Warbler, Hooded Warbler by the creek, Eastern Wood Pewee and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I even managed to eclipse the 100-bird mark for North Carolina while here. Even with the extra eyes of Greg (from Buffalo), we couldn't find it. He had to leave by 2pm, but I kept trudging along up and down the same service road. Dinner was on site. The staff wished me luck as they went home at 5:00. They even suggested some alternative locations outside the property.

By this point, I was starting to feel like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin. There was time to run to other the location but I was not interested. My bird is HERE and they (the other birds on the back-up site) are likely on the same schedule. Two options - hang here and relax or hustle there...and then wait. Wait here was the vote (a vote of one). That is what Linus would do.

The Great, the Bachman's Sparrow, arrived at 5:42. He was standing on a burned up stump. Other stuff around his perch was burned up, too, so I had a neat view of a little tan-breasted, white-bellied sparrow in a sunbeam out on a dark background singing his larynx out. The distance was a little more than I would have asked for so I ran back to the car for the scope (a 2-minute penalty for leaving it in the car), but upon returning, he was gone and quiet. I was not about to wait longer for it to show again. 6 hours was long enough.

With life bird #628 in the bag, it was on to Delaware and Maryland. As I drove, I realized camping was out (rain appeared on the horizon) and I was only a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Petersburg so I made the detour. Howard Johnsons got the call for the night.

At the pub (yes, the Ho Jo's pub), while doing trip notes, I had the Budweiser American Ale (#574). In the dim light, it appeared amber in color. All in all, it was a light weight ale - malty tastes, yeah, but not much really there. Little aroma. Little body. Sub par, at best. However, it could be a beer that might help people make the transition from the swill to the good stuff. By the way, the karaoke was horrible. Singing drunks should be arrested on felony charges.

On The Road Again - June 9th

When one has been birding as long as I have, getting new birds gets more and more difficult. How did I spend my summer vacation? Tracking down only three species - Bicknell's Thrush, Bachman's Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. With only three birds on tap, and a possible road trip in December, I opted to keep this trip relatively short.

June 9th was a travel day. After work, I left Metro Detroit and got to Charleston, WV. Seems like a cool town in the dark. Eastern Ohio is pretty nice, but West Virginia is simply awesome – rolling hills with woods. Nothing special bird wise – Common Nighthawks over the hotel. A cheap hotel is always good.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On The Road

As I type this, I am on the road. Not to brag, but I needed only three birds on this trip. If I get them all, I have basically seen most (certainly not all) of the regularly expected birds eastern North America has to offer.

Just to tease you, I have two of them under my belt. My third is expected in a few days.

For now, I am at the Dogfish Head Brewing Company in Delaware. I just finished a shrimp and basil pesto with feta cheese pizza and had what is quite possibly the best beer of my life. Reports of the Wings game are streaming live across my Netbook. Life is good.

I will give more details as time allows.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Saturday Morning Quiz

A friend of mine sent me this beer quiz. I scored a 6 out of 9. Not bad really....

For giggles, I did the quarter backs (not quarterbacks) quiz. 19 out of 20.

If I have time some day, I can try the "Discontinued Ben & Jerry's Flavor vs Bands I Found On MySpace" quiz. On second, I have other things to do.....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Getting To The Bottom

Getting to the bottom? The bottom of what? Well, as you likely know, "bottom" can mean, well, "the bottom", as in " you are likely sitting on your bottom as you read this."

Follow me now?

What does "a bottom" have to do with coffee? The bottom of the cup? Okay, but that is not what I mean.

I could get into all the details of "bottoms" and how it relates to coffee, but a friend of mine already did it. To make a long story short, I was invited to try a special coffee. This particular coffee has been processed by the digestive system of a cat-like animal called a civet. It eats the fruit, passes out the bean (from it's bottom), and somebody collects the beans to make coffee.

I was one of the special ones who tried it a few years back. I tried it again the other day. You can read all about it here. Many people who have this coffee have to pay big bucks for it. With my special connections, I have been able to try two different cups.

Thanks Julie!