Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Nice Week

While it can be a bit more challenging in the fall, birding is every bit as exciting and fun. Sure, the spectacular colors of migrants birds are partly gone and the songs have all but stopped. Yes, the leaves are out (making it harder to find the birds), and the swellings from mosquito bites resemble small tumors. But so what, right? Get out there and enjoy it!

I have!

Since Sunday, I figured I have walked over 10 miles at between Pointe Mouillee State Game Area (6 1/2 miles in one afternoon) and Lake Erie Metropark (1 or 2 miles on at least 3 three separate days).

I can say for certain that I have recorded 95 birds species in that time. Highlights of my week might include...
...12 species of shorebirds including Baird's Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, and Wilson's Phalarope
...15 species of warblers including two different Hooded Warblers
...7 raptors including an early Broad-winged Hawk (seen on August 23rd)
...two different Common Loon fly-overs (maybe the same bird twice?)
...a young Peregrine Falcon landing on a mudflat less that 200 feet away after making repeated attempts to nail an American Avocet. If you go here, you can get an idea of the look we had through out scopes. Absolutely breathtaking.

And to think September isn't even here yet!

I'm In The 4th Grade Again!

I used some time tonight to do some birding at Lake Erie Metropark. I was hoping to get some pictures. At one point, I found myself my stalking an Olive-sided Flycatcher sitting tall on a snag. To my surprise, a Baltimore Oriole flew in a landed right below the flycatcher! Immediately, my mind slipped into the mindset of a 4th grader. Click here if you don't get it. Yes, that funny two-story building is exactly what you think it is........

Friday, August 21, 2009

Now I See Pink

So earlier today, I got my eyes checked and found that everything white, for hours, was glowing. Remember?

After having a highly productive day of bill paying and house cleaning, I whipped up a dinner (grilled chicken in a North Coast marinade and corn on the cob with a cilantro pesto) and eventually set off to Lake Erie Metropark for some evening camera work. I opted to park myself on the big bridge along the Cherry Island Marsh Trail hoping to snag a flyby of an Osprey or a Bald Eagle. While I saw both, good shots were not possible.

However, I did find that the Caspian Terns were quite cooperative. I took over 200 pics, but most were junk. Given what I experienced this morning, I find the color shift kinda cool. They would have blinded me this morning with their bright white plumage. Tonight, they were a soft pink in the setting sun.

I've SEEEEEEEEN The Light!!!

Matthew 4:16 says -
The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land of shadow and death, upon them a light dawned.
That was me today. Yup, I was sitting in darkness and saw a great light. (I'm sure the "light dawning on the land" part is what many people would call sunrise, but whatever....)

Anyhow, what was my great light?

A light bulb. Nothing more than what is called a recessed can light. But this particular bulb was burning especially bright this morning. What makes this one any different? Well, nothing.

So what is the big deal? Tropicamide! Oh goody! Now, with my pupils currently dilated to be larger than my head, everything pale in color has that retinal-burning "glow". Yeah for me! The white car. The white sign. My mostly tan neighborhood. Paper on the driveway. All glowing! Yeah for me! I can't focus on anything closer than 36 inches! Yeah for me! I have the day off and was hoping to do some photography. So much for reading details on the camera! Yeah for me!

Maybe by dinner time, I can go back to the "darkness." I like it that way.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Run To The Hills

A run to the hills. Yup, that was part of my weekend.

What hills? The Hocking Hills of southeast Ohio.

If you have never been there, you should consider going. Forget that flat Ohio imagery. (You can thank the glaciers for that.) This area, about 1 hour south of Columbus, is far from flat. They don't call it "hills" for nothing. I think if one combines bedrock, botany, birds, a baseline general , boats, beers, and breakfast (including the best damned hashbrowns on the planet) you have an awesome little getaway.

The first thing to think about is the geology.

Well, no, the first thing to think about is the opportunity to try new beers.

Okay, its a tie, but I'll talk about the beers real quick. The Columbus Brewing Company was light years ahead of Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub. The Brewpub was a bit rough on the outside (clean up the parking lot!) but the food was good. The Centennial Ale (#602) and Scottish Ale (#603) were both pretty fair. Nothing crazy there. The CBC on the other hand, was simply great. Atmosphere. Food. Beer. Everything was great. The beer flight, consisting of the 90 Schilling (#608), American Tripel (#611), Apricot Ale (#606), Columbus 1959 Porter (#609), Columbus IPA (#610), Pale Ale (#607), and Summer Teeth (#605) was very rewarding. While the Teeth and Tripel were not to my liking, the Pale Ale and 90 Schilling were both very well done. Interestingly enough, the best beer of the trip was not even from Ohio. With my mouth watering ribs and baked potato dripping in butter and sour cream at Shaws, I enjoyed the White (#604) from the Allagash Brewing Company in Maine. Five out of five. Hands down, it was the best beer of the trip. My beer list now stands at 611.

If you like geology, you don't need the Rockies. Consider heading to the Hills. You'll love it. Old Man's Cave - named after hermit Richard Rowe who lived there beginning in the early 19th century. Ash Cave - a 700-foot long, 90-foot high recessed cave (the largest in Ohio). Rock House - a 200-foot long, 15-foot wide tunnel/cave parked halfway up a 150 foot sandstone cliff with carvings from passersby dating back well over 100 years. Its all there today because of the saltwater sea that was there 300 million years ago. The rocks of today (Black Hand Sandstone) that were once the sediments from millions of years ago have been carved by erosion (both wind and water). Unless you have been there, you just won't understand how neat this place is. The pic at the left is from Ash Cave. Those are real people down there.

From a photography standpoint, the place was very cool. Trying to get a handle on "how the camera sees" is really tough in a place like this. They don't see like our eyes do. Bright sunlight combined with deep shadows made any photography challenging. I took too many pics with either burned out sandstone and "lighter shadows" or nice sandstone and with huge black voids. Someone with better skills than mine (most photographers out there) could have a field day, especially if they where out on a more cloudy day with less (or no) people. For some areas, like Rock House (at left) a tripod was mandatory. So little light was available I went with a 20-second exposure!

Basically, the glaciers never made it that far south. But, they influenced the area, especially in and around the gorges, in ways we can still see today. When they retreated from central Ohio, some areas were still capable of supporting vegetation normally found today hundreds of miles to the north. Massive hemlocks, yews, and birch trees are just a few of the holdouts. With plants like that around, one can find bird life consistent with Canada(!) in southeast Ohio. While birding for passerines in mid-August is functionally a bust, there can be some cool finds here and there. The best bird of the trip? The fledgling Hermit Thrush. 15 feet away. The Black Vulture, indicative of the south, was pretty cool, too.

By total accident, I found myself standing on the sidewalk in front of the birth-home of one of the most hated men in American History. Well, at least, half the people in America (specifically those from the Confederate South) - William Tecumseh Sherman. Yup, it was Sherman who eviscerated the Confederacy with his "March to the Sea" during the final stages of the Civil War in what is now called Total Warfare. He long will be remembered for that one. Many forget he was, at best, an average general. While he served well at Bull Run, he and Grant had their rears handed to them because they where basically stupid during the opening phases of Shiloh. (His tactical stupidity here was likely directly related to the nervous breakdown he had after Bull Run.) So what does all this have to do with Ohio? In 1820, he was born in Lancaster, Ohio in the house on the left. That, by the way, would be "LAINK-uh-stir", not "LAN-caster."

For a little relaxing on the final day, a lazy canoe ride down the Hocking River north of Logan was just what the doctor ordered. Also known as the Big Hock-hocking River, Great Hock-hocking River, Hock-Hocking River, Hockhocken River, Hockhocking River, Hocking Hocking River, Hokhoking River, Big Hockhocking River, Big Hocking River, Great Hockhocking River, Hakhakkien River,and Hockhoking River it is plenty wide (every bit as wide as some sections of the Rio Grande), it was slow moving and scenic. It was a bit warm, but still an great way to kill a few hours.

At this point, you have to be wondering what the "best damned hashbrowns" comment is all about. It is simple - tucked away in the tiny town of Logan is a small diner with the best damned hashbrowns you will ever have. You must get to the Spotted Owl Cafe. Now, dont let the name fool you. I'm sure many of you know Spotted Owls are not found in Ohio, but that is not the point. The point is that the hashbrowns are awesome, the toast is thick, the eggs are cooked to perfection, and the iced tea was.....iced. The place is deserving of a visit is you are in the area. I would like to thank my GPS for finding it. While a Bob Evans was up the street, one could not pass up a breakfast at a sleepy diner named after a bird in sleepy rural Ohio. Of course, a real birder (whatever that means) would likely not sit down for a nice breakfast at 10am, but I digress.....

There you have it - bedrock, botany, birds, a baseline general , boats, beers, and breakfast. If you have some time, people, run to the Hills!

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Century Milestone - Beer #600!

So last night was the big night!

As you may know, I sent out a bulletin on my blog, emails, and "in-person invites" to join me at the Oak Cafe for a milestone beer - #600! Basically, if you were looking for an evening out, come join me. A simple plan, right?

So, after a burger and some munchies, I ordered beer #600 - Orval. It is a Trappist Beer. I may have mentioned them before. Basically, monks from a few monasteries in Europe sleep, pray and brew beer. Their beers are considered to be some of the best in the world.

I don't think that applies here.

The head was crazy and quite annoying actually. It was like the foam you get with a root beer float. Very light. Very fluffy. It was a dribble into the glass followed by lots of foam. Dribble. Foam. Dribble. Foam. I took me a good 3 or 4 minutes to pour it. To the eye, it is looked like apple juice. The carbonation on the palate was way too high for my tastes. That biting sort of feel was a distraction. Others have described it's tastes and aromas as "leathery" ,"barnyard", or "hay". What does that tell you? Three out of five.

For giggles, I ordered #601 - the Mocha Porter from the Rogue Brewery in Oregon. All in all, I think this beer highlights a basic thought - not all good things go well together. In this case, coffee and beer. Coffee is great (especially when it is Bird Friendly), and obviously beer, too. But lets face it - do the two really go together? I just don't think so. Maybe out there a beer exists that is a good blend, but this one certainly isn't it. It was very malty with subtle fruity tones (maybe raisins or plums). Beyond that, I have no idea what was going on! I don't know...just a weird beer and not very appealing. Two out of five.

The evening was just plain fun! I am glad I had to chance to see some folks I have not seen in a while and it was good to see so many people come out (maybe 20 or so?). One buddy of mine was so excited he showed up Wednesday night instead!

Interestingly enough, I have a new milestone coming down the road. Beer #631. What is the big deal? That is simply a marker I never thought I would get. That will be the beer that allows my beer list to exceed my bird list. When I started watching birds, I was not into beer. I never thought such a day would ever come.

It will be here before I know it....