Friday, February 19, 2010

Coulda Been

There is one thing that absolutely drives me *nuts* in this picture. Can you tell what it might be?

It is not so much the twigs in the image that annoy me. In fact, I kinda like 'em. It is the shadow from the branch in this beauty's face. Arghhhh!!!!

Could have been a cool shot...........

Golden Eyes

I snagged this photo of a drake Common Goldeneye a few days back. The name says it all, doesn't it? Yes, indeed, they have golden eyes.

Apparently, the eyes of a Common Goldeneye are gray-brown at hatching. They turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue as they age. By five months of age, they have become clear pale green-yellow. The eyes will be bright yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.

It's a good thing they often name birds based on the appearance of the adult. Calling it a "Common Clear Pale Green-Yelloweye" just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

I didn't think so...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Catching Rays

Finally, a nice sunny day! Relatively speaking, it was even kinda warm! After days and days of basically clouds and general dreariness, it was a nice change. With my camera and binoculars in hand, I beat it on down the road. Before long, I found myself staring face to face with somebody else who was looking for some sun, too.

After doing some hiking at Lake Erie Metropark, photographing bald Fox Squirrels at Elizabeth Park (it's a long story....), and clogging my arteries at McDonalds, I thought a trip around Grosse Ile was in order. At one point, I found myself in a woodlot.

The "chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" of the Black-capped Chickadee was so obivious. I heard them the minute I got out of the car. Finally a chance to get some pics of these buggers! I find them a challenge actually. They never sit still, the cheek patch burns out so easily or the background is a distraction. I am never happy with the shots, right?

So, I find myself simply walking up the tree. How cooperative of the birds to stay there! There were two of them. With targets in sight, a 400 mm lens ready, exposure set, the sun at my back, and my camera near my face, all systems were go.

As I started to track the first chickadee from a distance of not 25 feet (I planned to creep forward), I realized that something was not right - the chickadees would not leave the tree. In fact, they seemed be concentrating their now obvious frustrations in one particular spot. Six feet up the tree was a hole. Realizing that it would be easier to pan the camera and check the hole instead of letting off the camera and raising the binoculars, I slid my attention to the left.

There sat an Eastern Screech Owl.

I had time to snag one picture. Before I even had a chance to realize what was happening, he spied me with his partially open right eye, figured out the situation was no longer cool, and dropped into the hole.

Now, at this point, I had basically one option and one option only - back off. Realistically, I could have simply snuck up to the tree and peered in. But what would the point of that be? I already accidently scared the little fella. The last thing that needs to happen is for him to fly off in broad daylight. Plus, a cat was in the area. No sir, no other options. Move along.

After some more hiking and uneventful birding, I opted to swing past the tree again. This time, I swung out waaaaaay past the tree and peered through my bins. Sure enough, there he sat.

So what did I do? I kept going. Oh sure, I could have tried to sneak up on him and get a better picture, but what would that have proven? I already had a nice picture. Did I really need to give him a cloacaoscopy with a 400mm lens at point blank range? Did I need to rouse the wrath of the now absent bandits with the Napolean Complex?


I was enjoying the sun. He was, too.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Not Such A Poopy Day

So after four days off in row and no real options of skipping town, I finally managed to get out for a short bit today. Hold on - let me clarify that. I finally got out when the sun was up. These past few days, I have been inside doing various things (like hoping my fingers don't bleed from endless hours of guitar playing). Yes, I got out both Saturday and Sunday nights, but the days have been cloudy and dreary. No real motivation to get out, right? With today slipping away, I needed to get out for short time - clouds or not.

My first objective was to head out to the Pointe Mouillee State Area Headquarters. I was hoping to get a shot or two of the American Pipit that has been hanging out in the area. Boy, did it cooperate! At one point, this tail-bobbing beauty was basically ten feet from my car window. One could not have asked for a better study opportunity! If I was so inclined, I could have collected a stool sample. I saw him drop one - it was that close!

Is there a big deal here with this bird? You bet! If you check out the maps here, you can see this bird has no business really being in the region. It should have been long gone. For whatever reason, it decided southeast Michigan might be a fine place to spend the winter. According to a buddy of mine, if is survives the winter here, it will the first time a pipit has done it!

After that, I figured heading out the farm fields was worth a go. A buddy of mine had two different Peregrine Falcons out there a few days back. Anything can happen, right? Maybe a Snowy Owl or some nice Snow Bunting shots? I have been trying to get good perched Red-tailed Hawk pics for a good while now. Today, a lot of the chips fell in place.

As I was driving down a back road with lots of shrubs and such on the shoulder, I saw him vault from the ground (a missed kill?) and land on the gate (that is a gate in the pic, not a fence). The vegetation blocked his view of me once I cleared the "driveway". I turned the car around so he would be on the driver's side, got the camera ready, and crept forward. When I cleared the branch that I knew would be a problem, I stopped the car and started banging away on the shutter.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo points out that the Empire's ships always dump their garbage before they make the jump to light speed. I would presume that this makes them lighter for travel (yeah, they are in space, but with work me here, okay?) Ultimately, birds of prey do the same thing - they dump their garbage before they go to light speed. They will often poop before they go airborne. If they poop in a standing posture, it will make a big mess all over thier tail feathers, right? The solution? Lean forward and lift the tail! I knew when the tail came up, I was gonna lose him. I did, but not before I snagged the image. A split second after this pic (and the unseen poop) was popped, he parted. (Yes, it is a Red-tailed Hawk. It is simply immature. If it lives long enough, it will get the brick red tail feathers in the coming months.)

Speaking of poop, beer #705, the Raspberry Wheat from the Big Buck Brewery, just doesn't cut it. I have been drinking it as I type and I am not impressed. Looking like apple juice with a head (short-lived, by the way), the aroma is obviously fruity. Hardly a surprise. But the taste is just that bitterness and yuck that I find so common with fruity beers. It is hard to describe. Fortunately, I had some cheese on hand to make it more palatable. A two at best.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Rotten Start

I told myself I wouldn't get sucked into the Olympics. Sure, I follow them, but I just can't see myself sitting in front of the TV for days on end. That said, I try to watch the opening ceremonies. You can't go wrong with that, right?

What was supposed to be giant party had a very sad moment. If you have been a bubble today, you may have missed a huge and sad story. A luger, Nodar Kamaritashvili from the country of Georgia, was killed today during a practice run. When the his countrymen entered the arena tonight, you could see it in their faces. The one fellow was basically in tears - they were not tears joy. Black ribbons were on their sleeves and thier flagstaff.

How sad.

A Century Milestone - Beer #700

Unlike my others century mark beers (here and here) where I have invited tons of people to join me, last night was a bit different. I was more interested in a low-key evening for my 700th species of beer. With that, I met a good friend at the Fort Street Brewery for dinner and drinks. This week, they are celebrating their 5th birthday. I thought their special birthday beers would be a great way to have a milestone drink.

Now, you would think that I would be all prepared for such an event. How about the camera to take a pic of the milestone brew? Nope. I forgot it at home. (the picture below was taken with my iPhone). How about my flashdrive for my netbook that has my PortableApps software and beer database? Nope. That was at home next to the camera. So what, right? All fluff, right? Its all in the beer, the food, and the company. All where excellent. I wont mention the hockey game. Not so excellent.

While the beer was superb, I can't describe it! The name was Viesen Vine (think of it with that Germanic sort of twist to the pronunciation). Doug, the brewer, describes it as an ale that was brewed with two different kinds of yeasts. Ultimately, it had the banana and spice twist that you would expect with a hefeweizen, but it had it origins with the Opus Amor, his wheat wine (not to be confused with a barley wine). The body had a wonderful creamy texture with balance and pizazz and all sorts of other good things. Certainly sweet, too. If you don't like sweet beers, stay away from this one. You won't like it.

So, if you are a bit puzzled about what I am trying to say about this beer, I understand. All in all, I am not sure what he did! I do know this - it was a very good beer. If you like barley wines, you would have loved this beer. Unbelievable. 5 out of 5.

On to #800!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Peculiar Gift Bag

I had a great Christmas, just in case you were curious. One thing I am very happy to mention is that my family and I have totally ditched the stupidity of gift wrapping and gone to gift bags. Even then, one bag for each gift is a bit much, right? So, in some cases, we cram what we can in one bag and cover it with tissue paper. Works for me!

So with one bag in particular, I noticed it was jammed and heavy. It has to be some books, right? I reached in and grabbed the first book my fingers touched. The caption on book's front cover reads as follows:

One by one, feathery flakes landed on cold blankets and buffalo robes, on sweat-slicked hair, on shoulders turned to the sky, on soft cheeks - each flake delicate and slight, but each lending its almost imperceptible weight to the horror of what was about to happen....

Hmmmm. Snowflakes leading to a horror. Sound like Stephen King? Dean Koontz, maybe? No. Daniel James Brown. Oh, by they way, it was not fiction. "The Indifferent Stars Above" is about the Donner Party.

I'm sure you have heard of them. During the latter part of 1846, emigrants, ultimately led by a George Donner, got stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Low on supplies, the "feathery flakes" piled around them to depths most of us can't conceive (22 feet, in case you are curious). At their camp at what is now Donner Lake (left) some of the party resorted to cannibalism to survive. A small group, later to become known as the Forlorn Hope, managed to trek their way out, while, sadly, dining on the flesh of their companions. Ultimately, rescuers retrieved those that had survived long enough to be rescued.

Now, before you curl your nose at the thought of reading such a story, think about a few things. First, the story happened. Tah-dah! Done. There is nothing that you or I are going to do about that. Second, episodes like this have happened since then. Stranded and starving, people are apparently prepared to do incredible things, including cannibalism, to survive. Horrible as it may sound, I suspect it will happen again some day. Third, like it or not, there are some cultures today that do it as common practice for cultural reasons; food is not the issue as they live in some of the most lush places on the globe.

So what was the big deal with this book? For starters, it is not a story about cannibals. It is a story about survivors, centered around Sarah Graves. The author put me in that wagon train. I got cold (despite the fact I was drinking a hot buttered rum and had my thermostat set to 69 degrees). I got angry (I wanted to strangle Hastings while Foster and Keseberg where just plain bad people) . I was happy. I was shocked. At no point did Brown dwell on the cannibalism. He did, however, address it in such a way that you, the reader, realized it was going on.

At the drop of hat, Brown left the Sierra Nevadas and brought you to the current day. Hmmm, how does a body react to hypothermia? Believe it or not members of the Forlorn Hope got hyperthermia! How did that happen? He'll bring you up to speed. That, people, is masterful writing.

Who was Hastings, you might ask? The Donner Party, on the "final leg" (sorry) of their trip, followed what was called the Hastings Cut-off. Named after Lansford Hastings and detailed in his book, the "Emigrant's Guide", it proved to be a reckless trail that added weeks and miles to the trip. Days were spent cutting trees and moving boulders in Utah. Days more were spent crossing deserts with little access to fresh water. Amazingly, the first time Hasting's himself took his own trail was when he went east from California, in 1846, to guide the westbound migrants. He had written and published the route without taking it first. What an ass. (For the record, the Donner Party was advised NOT to follow the short-cut by a fellow who was just coming off the trail. Exhausted from a summer literally crossing the country and feeling rushed (they did not want to be on the trail in the winter), they felt an ill-advised route that was "shorter" was better than the known trail that was "longer".)

Foster and Keseberg? Well, they are not like the others. Members of the Donner Party survived by eating human flesh. When someone died, they were processed. These two? So far as we know, they are the only two who murdered and then ate...

If you are in the mood for a great read about a truly amazing story, check out the The Indifferent Stars Above. The site of the camp, by the way, is now administered by the California State Parks. I guess this means I will have to get there someday...

So, what were the other things in that Christmas gift bag? Seriously, would you believe a pepper mill and two cookbooks?! Hmmmm... a book about hardy souls who survived by eating human flesh sharing a gift bag with items that make food taste better.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Mexican Standoff

A mexican standoff is basically an impasse or a stalement. Each side is waiting for the other side to do something. It is a standard movie cliche now thanks to frequent use in spaghetti westerns and B-movies. (Quentin Tarantino, one of Hollywood's most overrated directors, uses them quite a bit, too.)

Anyhow, I saw my own mini-mexican standoff today. I don't know what led up to it, but by the time I was aware of it, the situation between the Northern Goshawk and Fox Squirrel was already a tense draw.

The squirrel, to his credit, was not an idiot. While the goshawk ( a huge female) could have chased him on foot under table (they can and will do such a thing) , she seemed content to sit on top of the table for the most part. I'm not trying to be anthropomorphic here, but it was almost as if the squirrel was sizing up the abilities and the commitment of the hawk. From the "safe zone" under the table, the squirrel would make a short dash out only to be "chased", in a very lethargic way, by the hawk. Each time, the squirrel would zig-zap in that incredible fashion that only they can do (usually seconds before they disappear under your car's front tire). A few moments later (which I'm sure felt like hours to the squirrel), the standoff would resume. According to the time stamps on my camera, this went on for almost 90 seconds. If you think about it, that is a looooooong time.......

Finally, likely knowing the next few steps could be his last, the squirrel ran like hell for the woods. During that 20 yard sprint, I could really see the hunting technique (Hah!) of the goshawk. Instead of just running that damn rodent down and footing it to death, she went airborne about two to four feet off the ground and fluttered down towards the squirrel. Yeah, great. How embarrassing. Fluttering is for butterflies. During these painfully slow descents, the squirrel had time to basically check his email, call his squeeze, and make dinner reservations. The combination of stuttering stops and starts with the zigging and zagging did the trick. Those 20 yards were behind him and into to the woods he went.

Sad to say, the hunting strategy of the goshawk was almost pathetic. Sure, they are one of the toughest birds of prey on the continent, but this one was a total dufous. I don' t think I have ever seen such a half-hearted or incompetent attempt at hunting, by anything, ever. Seriously, if this bird does not get into "hunter-killer mode" quick, she's dead. I can't believe she survived this long.

I managed this final pic before she slipped off down the nature trail. Embarrassed, no doubt. A few minutes later, a swarm of robins, making quite a ruckus, came hurtling out of the woods. I'm not sure, but I think they were laughing.....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Today Is The Day

Today is the day. No, not Groundhog Day. That was yesterday. Apparently, the little rodent was to send a text message, but the account got hacked. Whatever.

No, today is February 3rd and is known to some as "the day the music died". In the pre-dawn hours of this day in 1959, a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and JP Richardson ("The Big Bopper") crashed shortly after take-off from a small airfield in Iowa. The pilot, Roger Peterson, died as well.

As a complete and total hack behind both the drums and guitar, I can appreciate the talent these guys had and the loss to music overall. This is especially true with Holly's death. Even to this day, he mentioned and honored by the likes of The Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan. Wow, I could go on and on....

Looking back on episodes like this, the mind can certainly wander with an entire series of that peculiar question - "What if...."
- What if Peterson refused to fly knowing he was not qualified to do so?
- What if Waylon Jennings had been on the plane instead of Richardson?
- What if the heater on the tour bus had been working correctly?
- What if the tour had been scheduled to allow for proper travel time between gigs?
- What if Holly had clean clothes?
- What if Holly's wife had been on tour with him?
- What if no one died? Or only Holly? Valens?

So where would music be today if these pioneers had not died so early in their careers? I'll guess we'll never know, but I would like to think there would be no hip-hop....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

#697 and #698

So, I spent a bit of time tonight with Uncle Steve and an elf.

We......wait, I just re-read that first sentence.

Please let me try again.

So, I spent some time tonight critiquing Uncle Steve's Irish Stout and the 4 Elf Winter Warmer Ale.

The stout (#697), from Shorts Brewing Company, was a visual trick. It is the kind of drink you could pass to someone without telling them what it is and they might have a slug thinking it was a Coke. Of course, they could only do it if they never took a whif. Once they did that, there is no way they could be fooled. The smell of chocolate and a slight burned "something" would be a dead giveaway. That chocolate (and coffee) sensation carried through the taste and into the finish, as well. A hint of vanilla was at the finish, too. But, that overriding "burned" sensation never really left. On top of all that, the carbonation was way too high (in my opinion) while the body was not even close to what I would expect from a stout. It simply was not thick enough. In fact, it wasn't thick at all. I have to give a 3 out of 5. If I was in a bad mood, I might give it a 2. Contrary to the label, I would suggest that Leprechaun magic is not back.

The Elf (#698) hails from the Dark Horse Brewing Company in Marshall, Michigan (not to be confused with the Marshall Brewing Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma). You may recall that I visited this place a few weeks back. While the beers that night was pretty damned good, I'm afraid the Elf comes up a bit, um, short (sorry). I think the brewers may have "low elf esteem" and thought it was a good idea to dump every known spice into this beer. While the texture (creamy) and carbonation were perfectly balanced, the addition of clove, nutmeg, allspice, pepper, salt, motor oil, bells from red shoes, and kitchen sink extract were a bit much. By the time I finished it, I was all spiced out - you might argue my elfactory nerve was trashed. While not really noticeable, this beer apparently has a high alcohol content. If you drink too much, you might suffer from a "elf inflicted wound". Call a designated driver. They'll be the one in the mini-van. 3 out of 5.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Gray Days Again

If you are hopelessly bored in life and read my last post, you may have noticed that I mentioned the weather has not been that cooperative for me as of late. Yesterday? Gray and clouds. Today? Go figure - gray and clouds. What do the two days have in common? Yeah, you guessed it - they were both days off. There seems to be a pattern here...

So, despite the rotten weather, I made a go of some shooting. Yesterday, while at Dingell Park in Ecorse, I had a great chance to take some pics of some cool waterfowl including American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck and Common Goldeneye until that Bald Eagle came and scared them all away! Anyhow, I managed a pic (at left) of some Redheads in flight as they all returned. Once again, the lack of light shafted me. If there had been some sun, who knows what I could managed. I suspect something at least average. On a positive note, I did manage a glimpse of a Northern Goshawk as it sliced it's way over the treetops next to the park. Very cool.

Today, I opted to make a swing through Elizabeth Park in Trenton. By my count, I would say there are 1.39 million Fox Squirrels running around. All one needs to do is stop the car and they scurry out by the thousands (I mean it - thousands!). I must have been just behind the free-munchies truck as the little rodents, some with mange, were running around with entire slices of bread in their mouths. Comical, but sad. Needless to say, I was happy to find one who would not approach my car when I stopped and seemed to understand what native foods are all about. That Goshawk up the road at Dingell Park needs to quit wasting her time there and move here for the season.

By the way, my next day off is Saturday. It is now guaranteed to be cloudy. Plan accordingly.