Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Signs of "Spring"

Ultimately, I think the "signs of spring" thing is rather comical. There is no single sign. Sorry, folks. Really. I don't have a single natural observation that says "Yup, it is now officially spring!" Not a bird. Not a flower. Nothing.

For me, it is a series of things. I look for them when I am out and about...

After tooting around a bit at Oakwoods Metropark yesterday, this handsome Garter Snake was found rummaging in the leaf litter. When the sun finally came out, it was quite warm. The cool thing about photographing cold-blooded critters on early warm days in spring is that they don't move so fast. I was able to get rather close. In fact, I actually had trouble being too close with my 400mm lens! I should have backed off a bit. I don't advise lying down on the trail in white clothes to get shots like this. While I was not that brainless, I did get a wet bum on my jeans.

Another fun sign simply looking for breeding behavior in birds. Sure, you have some oddities like the Great Horned Owl who are sitting on eggs in January. But, it is still nice to find the nests and see adults watching over nests full of fuzzballs. The pic at the left is certainly one of those cases. The bird is a parent. The nest was a short 75 yards away (or so). The nest currently has two youngsters in it. No, I am not going to tell you where it is. Lets just say two things. 1) I didn't find it. 2) The location is crazy. I can't believe they're there....

The picture at the left had to be one of the coolest moments of the day. Sure, it is a lousy shot - too much debris in the way, bad composition, and a whole peck of other problems. But, look at some things. First, the Rock Pigeon did not move so fast, did it? The Cooper's Hawk nailed it. How do I know it is a Rock Pigeon? Big honking red feet. Nobody else has 'em. (At first I thought it might be something else, but when I looked at the photo later, I realized the feet were just too red...)

Did you see that thing on the hawk's left leg? Yup, it is a banded bird. At some point, this bird was nabbed by a researcher. Somewhere, somebody has info on this bird. Too bad we can't read the numbers.

Third, this pic was taken at Lake Erie Metropark in a location where Cooper's Hawks have nested in the past. At no point did it seem to care about us. Off in the distance, a second Coop was calling. Plus, in recent days, I have seen Cooper's Hawks flying over the park with big, dramatic, slow wingbeats. It's a territory thing. I wonder if we stumbled into what we call "a date" yesterday...

Snakes. Parents. Soon-to-be parents.

Ah, Spring. Oh, I mean "Spring"......


You might recall from a few weeks back that I have been trying to get a Black-capped Chickadee photo. The little twerps just never seem to settle in for a picture when I am around.

I think that may have changed yesterday.

Interestingly enough, I got the pic because my gear was not working correctly. After walking a few hundred feet from my car, I realized the batteries in my external flash were dead. Totally dead. So, I swapped 'em out, right? Well, it wasn't until I got a few hundred yards down the trail when I realized the second set were just about as dead. They seemed to have enough juice when I first place them in. I can say, for certain, that the picture would have been ruined had I tried to take it with the flash; I am sure the white cheeks would have been overexposed. The natural light was basically all I needed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

#724 - #730

Friday night was another super night for a beer lister. The Vreeland Mart, that wonderful beer heaven a short walk from my place, hosted another beer tasting. Fine beers from all over the world and all the food you could eat were up for grabs. Don't forget the free raffle!

Over the course of the evening, I managed to sample seven new beers.

#724, the Lucky Kat, from Magic Hat Brewing Company was pretty subdued for an IPA. I was expecting that hoppy bite but it just never materialized. The creamy body was certainly a plus. 3 out of 5.

The Amber Ale (give me a better name!), #725,was brewed at the Abita Brewing Company. How many ways can one say "stunningly sub-average amber ale"? 2 out of 5.

Soft Parade (#726) from Short's Brewing Company was a fruit ale. If you are a regular reader here (I pity you if you are!), you know I am not a giant fan of this style unless you are doing cheeses, fruits or deserts. This beer shows why. Fruity, but horribly acidic, it managed only a 2 out of 5. It is not one of their better brews.

The Prima Pils (#727) from the Victory Brewing Company was not good at all. A 1 out of 5, I think it was pretty much a dud. The color was mighty pale, the finish was weird, and I was left wondering if it was actually a skunky beer. I am sure it wasn't but, cripe, if you have wonder if that is the case, it can't be good...

Lion Brewing Inc. got the call for #728 and #729: McSorley's Pale Ale and McSorley's Black Lager, respectively. Both were good, but nothing to brag about. I found the Black Lager very peculiar. I have had this style of beer before and they never cease to amaze me. Your brain says "stout or porter" based on appearance. When you give it a go, it has this horrible watered down body, until you realize it is indeed a lager and will not have a body like a stout or porter. The Pale Ale was way too carbonated. All the nice tones were shot.

The best of night was certainly the last one of the night. The Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale (#730) from Moylan's Brewery and Restaurant was awesome! Ruby in color, but clear, the aroma was full of nuts and sweet tones (maybe caramel?). The rich and creamy body highlighted more of that sweetness. There was a hint of alcohol "belly warming" in the finish, but it did not distract from the beer at all. Best brew of the night. 5 out of 5, for sure. I'll leave all the visuals to you....

On a different note, I am, apparently, the only dork who brings a computer to these things. That said, a number of people are starting to think of me as a beer guru. The folks at our table couldn't resist asking me questions. I guess I look official. At one point, the owner of the store came over and said "hi". We had chatted some time ago at the store while I was beer shopping.

On one point, a guy walked up to a friend of mine. While he could have been hittin' on her ("Hey baby, what is your favorite beer...?"), he decided, instead, to ask her about me. " So, that guy over there with the computer...what's his favorite beer?"

Yeah, I am confused, too.

My beer species list now stands at 730 species.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wrong Bird, Ya Dope

Wile E.,

Look, you and your coyote pals kept me up a week ago with all of your howlin' and yippin'. I thought for sure you were all fired up with the arrival of your Acme....well, whatever it was. You know, the rocket-powered roller skates or the giant bow and arrow? I don't know what you got, but you certainly sounded excited.

With the arrival of your toy, I thought for sure the Roadrunner was going to get his due. Well, smart guy, how do you explain this?

Yeah, that is not a Roadrunner. Good job, moron. Too many bumps on the ole' canine noggin'? Too much desert dust in your eyes? It's a duck. In fact, it is a drake Mallard duck I found just tonight at the retention pond here in my subdivision. Nail him last night, did ya?

I thought it was especially crafty of you to place a pile of feathers on the upper throat of the duck knowing all the evidence suggests you grab your prey by the neck until they suffocate. Hiding the wound was pretty nifty, but you didn't fool me! That said, there was really no way for you to hide the fact that you breasted him right out and ate him on the spot.

All in all, I'm still not sure what you got in the mail last week. There were no scorch marks or ruts, so it wasn't the roller skates, rockets and dynamite. I didn't find any signs of an anvil being dropped from the cliff ledge. No blowgun darts or boomerang fragments, either. Well, whatever you did, you didn't leave a trace. Except, of course, for the body of Daffy's distant cousin...

But, I guess I can't blame you. While my neighbors likely have good intentions, they shouldn't feed the ducks. I suspect it is hard for you to pass up a corn and bread fattened mallard. I mean, geez, I suspect mice would get old after a while. After all, you need to get your energy levels up.

Shhhh, I think I hear the Roadrunner coming now.....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Need Some Sleep

Back in the day, I used to be a heavy sleeper. I mean real heavy. On one occasion, in college, I slept through a fire drill in the dorm. Quite a skill, huh? I could have used those skills last night.

After finishing up some reading about Abe (he is President now, by the way), I drifted off to sleep. Around 2:30am, some of the loudest, most obnoxious yipping, yapping and yelping starts up. While it, at first, sounded like it was on my porch, I got a better grip on my senses and realized it was coming from just a bit up the street. It was absolutely coming from within my subdivision.

Coyotes. Really. I figure there were three or four (okay, maybe five) gettin' all fussy about something.

While it may come as a shock to some, coyotes are here, have been here, and aren't going anywhere. They eat damn near anything, adapt as the world changes around them, and they tolerate people. Get used to them.

Some internet research suggests that the after-dark rabble-rousing is all about communication. Of course it is. The question is simple - "What are they trying to communicate?" One researcher claims that it basically calls the family group (the "pack", if you will) back together after a night of individual hunting. Another suggests that it is all about territories and that they are announcing to other coyotes in the area that they are "here" and trespassers will not be tolerated. (The picture on the left is a bad one from Ontario in 2008. It serves no real purpose here. It is just setting a mood...)

I guess both ideas are plausible. I mean really - what do I know? I'm not a coyote expert.

That said, I think there is a third possibility. In fact, I am pretty dismayed that other experts did not come up with this one.

I think it stands to reason that the Coyote last night was thrilled with the arrival of his rocket-powered roller skates from the Acme Company. Or maybe it was the rocket. Or perhaps the giant bow and arrow. I don't speak "coyote", so I can't be sure, but he certainly sounded excited as he was bragging to all his friends.

Any way you look at it, three things have to happen:
1) I have get some sleep tonight.
2) I have to see that Road Runner before Wile E. get 'em. That would be super bird for my Michigan checklist. I am already the only person in the state to see both Magnificent Frigatebird and Lesser Frigatebird in Michigan. A Road Runner would be every bit as awesome.
3) That Road Runner better watch it - "...if he catches you, you're through!"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Playin' Catch-up

While it has been a few weeks since I have last talked about beer, don't think I haven't been trying new ones! Hey, I've been busy! (Abe is ready to run for President! Fellow vampire hunter William Seward (and soon to be Killer Abe's Secretary of State) talked him into it!)


Brews of the past few weeks from the Summit Brewing Company included the Extra Pale Ale, Indian Pale Ale, and the Maibock. All in all, "average" would be the word.

A real highlight of the last few weeks has been the work of the Left Hand Brewing Company of Longmont, Colorado. While they have been around for over 15 years, I totally stumbled into their beer a short time back. The Deep Cover Brown Ale, Jackman's American Pale Ale, Polestar Pilsner, and Sawtooth Ale were all very good, but the Milk Stout was a totally keeper. A 5 out of 5. I don't give those that often! Practically black with an inviting tan head, the chocolate tones with a hint of coffee were perfect. Balance? Dead on. Body? Dead on. Simply wonderful.

Keeping a bit closer to home, the Original Gravity Brewing Company in Milan was worth a stop. I had been there shortly after Brad opened the place in '08. Cool place. The Sean of the Red and Southpaw IPA were just a few of beers on tap. As a fan of red ales, I really like this beer. The IPA, on the other hand, was a more hops than I could handle. If you like hops, try this one; you'll probably like it. If you can't manage strong hops, this brew might just kill you.

The 'ole beer list now stands at 719 species.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Scavenger Hunt

I got a great cook book for Christmas. (Yes, it was one of those that was packed with the Donner Party book.) Cooking Know-How, simply put, gives you all you need to know about cooking and they "why's" behind it. It is set up as chapters with blocked-out recipes based on the basics of the dish. It really is a very well-done cook book. (No pun intended. Okay, maybe just a little one...)

Anyhow, a simple recipe caught my eye. The Rigatoni with Chicken and Apples was a success some time back so I thought I would give the Ziti with Mushrooms in a Marsala Cream Sauce a go. It was easy to make and it did not disappoint.

Basically, I needed ziti pasta, olive oil, cream, thyme, a pile a crimini mushrooms, a bottle of marsala (a delicious, sweet dessert wine), and Parmesan cheese. A quick trip to the store should get me my 'shrooms, wine, cream, and pasta, right?


The produce section was first. 3/4 of a pound of Shitake mushrooms. Check.

Off to the pasta aisle. Hmmm. No Ziti. What the hell is Ziti, anyway?

Enter the iPhone.

After a quick Google of "ziti", I see that it is basically a tubular pasta. What a minute. This recipe calls for ziti, specifically, when I just as easily could have used tortiglioni, mini tortiglioni, sedanini rigati, sedani rigati, rigatoni, penne, mini penne rigate, mezze penne rigate, pennette lisce, penne lisci, pennette rigate, penne rigate, tortigliona dopie rigatura, penne tortigliona rigatura, canneroni, mezze maniche rigate or pennonni lisci. Those crazy Italians.... All in all, close to ten minutes was spent looking for, and looking up, the needed pasta.*

After checking the iPhone checklist, I realized "Woah...wrong mushrooms". Baaaaaack to the produce section. Hmmmmm, no Crimini mushroom. Oh, they had Shitaki, Portobello, and a whole ton of other goodies, but no Crimini. I didn't need the produce people......

Enter the iPhone.

After a quick Google of "crimini mushroom", I see that criminis are basically portobellos, but smaller. Obviously, the people that named the mushrooms went to school in Italy. Oh hell no, they can't call them "big portobellos" and "little portobellos" or "portobellos - we don't care about the size and you shouldn't either". No, that would be too easy. Two different names for the basically the same fungus. Whatever.

Fortunately, the bottle of Marsala was easier to find. Granted, I think I found the last bottle, hiding amongst the ports, but hey, I found it. 30 minutes later, after what should have been a 10 minute trip, I was home.

The recipe is a total keeper. Easy to make, tastes absolutely awesome, and yields a ton of leftovers. Win. Win. Win.

Plus, I now know what I am looking for in the store. Thank goodness for the iPhone. Scavenger hunts are so bad when you are well armed.....

* I was caving in to tradition here. We all know pasta is the same, but I was having fun. The traditionalists say that tubes hold cream and noodles carry tomatoes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Revisionist History

And we were told the Civil War was all about slavery and states' rights. Guess again.....

I bumbled into this book last night at Border's. I can tell you the first chapter is awesome. Skuttlebutt says that Tim Burton might be in on the movie. Not bad for a book that was only released a few days ago.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Trephanation is an amazing procedure. Dating back to the Stone Age, it basically involves drilling a hole in a patient's skull in an attempt to expose the brain and ultimately cure various medical problems. Archaeological finds have shown that people survived this procedure even hundreds of years of ago. Can you imagine having a chunk of stone used as a drill so someone (hopefully, one you trust!) could carve a hole in your noggin? Whew. What misery, huh? (There is even a case of a guy and his wife who firmly believed in self-trepanning! Would you believe his name was Mellon? Really! Cue the rimshot in three...two...one.....)

Well, today, I had a hole in my head.

Wait. I have that totally backwards. Today, I had my head in a hole. Wait, um... my head, er... This is getting bad. Let me explain.

With such beautiful weather today, I hit the road. After some light birding at Oakwoods Metropark, I did some driving. I found myself heading down the dirt road that leads to the Pointe Mouillee State Game Area. On a horizontal portion of a light post a few hundred yards ahead, a Red-tailed Hawk was sitting still and looking cool (do they ever not?)

This gave me a chance to try something I have tried once before. With the car in park, I put my butt on the arm-rest. If you must know, it is the right cheek. Why? Because I needed to stretch the left leg to the brake pedal. Reaching down and placing the car in "drive", the car crept forward at a snail's pace. I could easily reach the steering wheel with my left arm if I need to do so.

Where is my head? It's sticking out the sunroof! So was my camera. As I crept forward, I managed to snag a pic.

Keep in mind, I would never do this in any sort of a dangerous circumstance. No, I would not do it on the expressway or even a busy side street. There was no one around so it was perfectly safe. In fact, I am not even sure I can reach the gas pedal when my tush is planted on the arm rest, so speed is hardly a concern here. It is as safe as you could ask for. Really.

Yeah great - flying down the expressway at 70mph with half of my body hanging out the sunroof. How stupid. Can you say "ticket"? I need that like I need a hole in the head...