Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hmmmm...What To Call It.....

The Caspian Tern is the largest tern in the world.  With a wingspan sometimes exceeding four feet and a flaming red beak designed to snag unsuspecting fish, birders all over the globe can appreciate this beauty.   Folks in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America all get to a chance to see it.

Now that "Caspian" reference makes more sense as I sit here and type just 20 minutes south of Detroit.

For me, seeing them glide over the waters of Lake Erie is very relaxing.  However, if I want to capture a photo, I could start to call them "those damned Caspian Terns". Pretty as they are, they never seem to come close enough to shore. They're always just a bit beyond the reach of my lens.   

This one, however, came close enough for a photo a few days ago.  I could call it "cooperative."  For once! Maybe it was just showing off it's meal,  a common lake fish called a Gizzard Shad.  If that is the case, we could call it a "braggert."

Call them what you will, I'm sure it sucked to be the fish.  If it could talk, I wonder what it would call the tern?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Udderly Fascinating

My weekend was pretty cool.  Good times...and all that jazz....

But one thing made for a very cool moment Saturday morning.  With a quick pic on the iPhone, I saved it for my mammoirs.

Yeah, clouds. Big whoop, right? Yeah, really. Big whoop. Big.  C-cup, maybe?

Seeing them was really quite something. I was there with another fellow. Between the two of us, we knew this cloud formation had an interesting name, but we couldn't get it., despite our attempts to say abreast of nature vocabulary.   Our "mammeries" must have been failing us.  
While the exact mechanism still has not been explained to the satisfaction of all, mammatocumulus clouds are quite a sight.   A-pair-ently, the name derives from the Latin mammo meaning "breast" or "udder" while cumulus means "cloud."   They take on a round, sagging nature very much like a ..... awwww, come on, do I really need to explain this? 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Only One Of Three

So yesterday was a fair day at the hawkwatch.  It was nice to have some birds low and overhead when you're trying to get some pics!  I hope I have more opportunities in the coming days!

This Osprey made a nice pass.  Those spooky orange eyes tell us that he/she is a youngster.  By the way, the "I'm getting the life chocked out of me!" bulging-eye-thing is all about the lack of a supraorbital ridge.  Other birds of prey have them (so do people for that  matter!), but Osprey don't. That is why so many raptors look so fierce while Osprey look kinda dopey. The bird on my blog header is an Osprey, as well.  It really was carrying a bottle of Chimay. I swear. Really.  It has good taste! They have to wash that fish down with something!

Red-tailed Hawks will be coming by the thousands in the coming weeks.  Yes, it is a Redtail even though this one does not have a red tail.  I suspect I have mentioned it before, but they do not get their red tail until their second year of life.  Unfortunately, that spells some trouble for this one.  Studies have shown that the first year of life for a bird of prey is brutal. While they have the instinct to do things, they don't have the skills yet.  Flying, hunting, and just general survival stuff are quite hard.  More than 1 in 2 will be dead by their first birthday. More than likely, this one will not get a candle on his birthday vole.

This bird, on the other hand, should fair well.  That crazy tail pattern marks this one as a Broad-winged Hawk adult.  While its migration is brutal in terms of distance (they head to the tropics!), the simple fact that it is an adult suggests it has cleared that awful first year hurdle and should do well, barring accident, injury, or illness.  Every day is rough, but this one has shown it at least has learned a few things...

There you have it.   Three birds on the go. One might get where it goin'......

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Nice Day

All in all, a nice day here at the hawkwatch. A few thousand birds us always nice! The photo is the boat launch at Lake Erie Metropark. I suspect it will be recognizable for some of you (Hi Bruce and Linda!).

I managed some pics today that might be worth something. Those cooperative Osprey make for a nice day! I'll check 'em later and put 'em up if they are any good!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Tale Of Two Beers: #808 vs #810

The last few days have been days of contrast. Beers, I mean.  One impressed the hell out of  me, while the other?  Well, not so good. Very "bad" in fact.

Living up to their reputation of home runs vs. strikes out, the Short's Brewing Company scored a grand slam with their Oktoberfest Noble Chaos (#810).  What an awesome beer!  A wonderful beer to look simple view, the color is a clear ruby (almost purple) brown with a nice, but short-lived head.  The aroma dances all over the place with hint of citrus-like sweetness.  One minute, I might be smelling raisins or caramel. The next? Plums!  On the tongue, everything fits together so nicely.  The balance of sweets and hops is dead on.  A medium or medium-heavy creamy feel tickles the tongue. The finish starts sweet and ends with a nice malty feel.  Excellent from start to finish.  5 out of 5.  Great stuff!

A few nights ago, I had the displeasure of the dealing with the opposite extreme.  

Before I start totally ragging his beer, let me clear - Kid Rock does some okay things.  While I am certainly not a fan of his music (for the most part), I like to hear that he does shows for the troops overseas and gives freely of his money locally for charities and other events. That is all pretty damned good in my book.

Unfortunately, his Badass Beer (#808)  is not badass at all.  It is bad and tastes like...well, you can figure it out.  

I gave it my best when I tried it, but it was hard to get past the visual aspect, to be honest.  While the books suggest the palest beer color is "pale straw", I would argue "pale pale pale sorta straw  crappy stuff" would be more applicable.  No beer anywhere should look like this.  Taste was basically nonexistent.  The finish?  Ditto. Nothing in the start, middle, or end.  One person said recently that is has "no aftertaste" and they seemed to brag about it.  Um, beer should have an aftertaste, but lets call it a "finish". Okay, hell, call it aftertaste if you like.  Call it whatever you want, but it should be there.   This stuff doesn't have it.  It doesn't have anything.  1 out of 5.  Sorry Kid.

A tale of two beers.  One is all rock-n-roll, while the rocker's beer is horribly out of tune.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Philly, Phinally

In 1842, one of the great early American ornithologists blasted the snot out of a little bird with a yellow tummy and heavy bill.  Science etiquette told him he could not name it after himself.  Realizing he was a hop, skip and a jump from one of North America's leading science epicenters, he gave it the name "Philadelphia Vireo."

Had John Cassin (left) known a little more about the bird, he could have, perhaps, given it a more intriguing name.  Had he known the bird nests in the mixed hardwoods of Canada, he could have named it "Canada Vireo".  But, he didn't know that. Maybe he could have called it the "Yellow-breasted Insect Gleaner" after its appearance and diet, but he didn't do that, did he?  

A key thing to keep in mind is this - the Philadelphia Vireo was named a century-and-a-half ago because Cassin shot it near Philly.  Realistically, it has nothing to do with the place.  As a migrant, it was just passing through that September day.  Birders all over eastern North America find them every spring and fall as they move from Canada to the tropics where they spend the winter.  I suspect many, especially those that have been birding for a while, have a Philidelphia Vireo for the checklist of their favorite birding location.  

But not me.

Until today.

This morning, I got a Philadelphia Vireo for my Lake Erie Metropark (and Wayne County) checklist.  Phinally.  No, no, no, don't get me wrong. It was not a life bird, it was simply a  new bird.  

While it may not look like much to some, it was a true treasure for me.  A key feature was the yellow wash that was all over the throat, breast, and belly.  Check this picture and you will see what I mean.  If there was less yellow, I would have needed to be more critical to make sure it was not one of these - a Warbling Vireo.  A better example, with yellow more like that  of a Philly, can be seen here

So there it sat.  15 away, 10 feet up, sitting pretty for seconds.  Bird #274 for Wayne County and #246 for Lake Erie Metropark. 

Fortunately for me and birders everywhere, the Philly Cheesesteak had not yet been developed when Cassin collected his  first specimen.  I can only imagine how stupid a name for a bird that could have been!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A.O.K. In Da U.P

The thought of Labor Day far from home in normally pretty nauseating.  It is not so much a homesickness-thing; it is the ulcer I get thinking about the drive home.  The thought of heading  "up north", while fun, is tempered by the idiots on I-75, rotting in traffic jams, and just general commuting non-sense. 


For whatever the reason, with a few days off over this past weekend, a course was plotted for Chippewa County in the Upper Peninsula for a few days of friends, birding and fun.

All in all, the trip up was pretty uneventful.  The one highlight of the commute...or lowlight for some, I guess...was crossing the Mackinac Bridge.  Those pesky winds (40+ mph) made for an interesting drive across the Straits - in the dark. Recognizing bridge engineering  has improved leaps and bounds since Galloping Gertie, we were fine.  What's the big deal? Besides, they won't shut down traffic until winds exceed 60 mph so we had room to spare!

Unfortunately, clouds greeted us at sunrise on Saturday. After a quick bite in town and spectacular views of two Merlins behind the hardware store in Paradise, we made the trek out to Whitefish Point.  Sure, there is a lighthouse there, but it is a legendary place in the eyes of many birders, too.  That peculiar spit of land that sticks out into Lake Superior can be quite something.  

Basically, much of the birding is done like a hawkwatch - stand around and let the birds come to you.  For those opening hours, they did.  Red-necked Grebes by the hundreds zipped past.   Sanderlings hanging out in the, uh, sand, were nice to watch from only a few dozen yards.  The White-winged Scoters were nice, too, but that was not what we came for...

Jaegers are not gulls, though they look similar.  Simply put, they own gulls.  Known as a kleptoparasite, they steal food from gulls when they can't snitch their own.  After breeding in the arctic, they move along for the migration season to destinations in the tropics.  While Whitefish Point sees only few dozen a year, that is considered pretty good by regional standards.  If you want to see jaegers in Michigan, it is one of the best places to do it.

Unfortunately, while we saw at least seven different birds (including three together!), the distances were just stupid.  The ridiculous west winds (20+mph) were blowing alot of the birds out over Whitefish Bay.  But, such is birding.    On a cool note, those seven birds,  Parastic Jaegers,  were part of a record day at Whitefish.  13 total were seen. The previous one-day record was six or seven.  Safe to say, that record was smashed.

Realizing that rain was coming, the winds were high and the birds far off, we went to find goodies on our own. Hah. Nothing doin'.  Driving back roads and hiking various trails for this, that, and the other turned up very little despite high hopes  In case you needed to know, birding in the rain just sucks. But, you don't drive hundreds of miles to sit in the hotel room.  As they say, there is no such thing as bad weather - just bad gear.

Dinner in Paradise is a no-brainer for a beer nut.  The Pub 33 at Tahquamanon Falls State Park is well worth the trip.  While some people think of porcupines as obnoxious rodents who chew anything, their namesake, the Porcupine Pale Ale (#805), wasn't so obnoxious.  While all aspects of the beer (body, aroma, finish) were  toned down a bit, the beer was a nice compliment to my pork medallions (pork, not "porc". That would be gross).  It was not the best pale ale I have ever had,but I can't complain either.

Sunday was a totally different day.  More sun, less wind and warmer temps made for an awesome adventure.  More waterfowl migration was nice, but the highlight of the beach time was clearly the Sabine's Gull.  Its eye-dazzling patterns can better be seen here.  That bird is a total stunner and #343 on my Michigan checklist. The awful commute home was suddenly looking less awful.

Recognizing that the flight at the Point was likely not going to get much better, we left.  It is hard to top a Sabine's Gull!  With the nice weather and no real threat of rain, it was back to the trails and roads.  Songbirds were abundant, but that one remaining target birds still eluded us.

Spruce Grouse, a chicken-like bird of the north woods, can be a real treat to find.  Basically, find where they hang out and walk around.  The trail to Clark Lake was just the spot.  After poking around for over a half a mile, we stumbled into a photographer who had one on the shoulder of the road.  He left, and within seconds, she sauntered out into view....

Some people mistakenly think that Spruce Grouse are stupid.  They're not.  Stupid would include any Glenn Beck idea, this kid, this kid, or these people. Grouse, on the other hand, simply know what they need to know.  Food, predators, protection from the elements, and basically how to manage everyday life in the woods are all they need to understand.  As long as you don't suggest you are a predator, they won't have a care in the world.  

After she dallied out of the ferns, I simply plopped down prone and snapped away.  20 feet became 15 feet.  After a few moments of pacing with the gap still narrowing,  I gave up - she was too close for my lens.  Nine feet became 5 feet.  Finally, four feet.  After that, she changed course and continued picking at the bugs and seeds in the sand.  That's how we left her...

Interestingly enough, I have no recollection of seeing my first one.  This extraordinary sighting was not it.  Apparently, according to my notes, I saw one (life bird #480) on April 14, 2000 on Vermillion Road.  Usually, a note like that jars a memory and you can somewhat recall a mental image of some sort.  What it was doing?  Male or female? Good look or poor at best? Morning, afternoon or evening?  I don't  recall.  At all.  Hmmmm. I guess that is why we keep notes. That said, I'll never forget this beauty.

Dinner was again at the Pub (no new beers) with some evening hours hiking around the Falls themselves.  The Upper Falls, the second highest east of the Mississippi River at 50 feet tall, are really quite something.  Don't be alarmed by the brown tones.  Upriver, tannins leach out the cedar swamps and change of the color of the water. 

Unfortunately, weather-wise, Monday turned out a bit like Saturday - cloudy with a threat of rain dumping on you at any minute. While it never did (at least while we were in the UP), the overcast skies put a chokehold on your mood sometimes.  Despite our best efforts in multiple locations, Black-backed Woodpecker, a burned woods specialist, could not be located.  

A quick stop at Hulbert Bog for possible Boreal Chickadee turned up more songbirds, including 1.9 billion Blue-headed Vireos,  and what was likely a Gray Jay. That peculiar laughter, just far off of the road to prevent a sighting, was most likely the "camp robber."

Fully expecting a disastrous 400-mile commute home with traffic and all, we bid farewell to the UP and moved along.  A pre-planned dinner stop at the Big Buck Brewery provided my 806th beer, the Antler Ale.  Yeah, okay.  It was there. Nothing special, which is typical of my beers from there.  

On a more important note, I secured a bottle of the Raspberry Wheat.  I already had it many months ago.  This bottle was empty.  Really.  I wanted,... no, I needed this empty beer bottle even though I won't have it for long.  Confused?  It will become more clear in the weeks ahead.....I hope.... 

In spite of my concerns, the commute home was easy. No accidents, traffic jams or stupidity of any kind.  Smooth sailing.  I suspect the iffy weather over the weekend sent some people home early.  Also, it might be an economy thing.  Nobody has a job so nobody travels.  Those that had cabins "up north" easily could have lost them.  I'm speculating. What do I know....

From a lister's standpoint, this trip was pretty productive.  My Chippewa County list rose to 131 species from 108.  I have never been here this time of year, so the songbird migration helped quite a bit.  The jaegers and Sabine's Gull were new bringing the Michigan List to 343 species.  All travels totaled this year, I now stand at 251 species.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I'll Have What He's Havin'

Here is a piece that came across the AP wire today. 
Divers who found what's believed to be the world's oldest drinkable champagne say they have also discovered two-centuries-old bottles of beer at a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea.
Bjorn Haggblom, a spokesman for the researchers, says they found a handful of beer bottles this week while salvaging champagne discovered near the Aland Islands in July. He said researchers who tried drops of the dark, foamy liquid liked the taste of it. Swedish beer expert Goran Winbergh questioned whether it would still be drinkable because beer is perishable. 
The shipwreck is believed to be from the early 19th century. Haggblom said the oldest drinkable beer previously recorded dates from 1869.
 Here is the pic.

Pour me one.  I'm in!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In The Blink Of An Eye

In yesterday's post, I had a very cooperative Great Blue Heron only feet away. What a neat opportunity, huh? Well, after I looked through the photos again, something caught my eye.  In fact, it was his eye.  At least, a part of it, anyway......

      Yes, the picture is not crisp, but who cares.  If you look closely, he (okay, I'm not sure he's a he, but I'm gonna go with it...) has a thin, transparent thingy over his eye.  It looks like an eyelid, but it is clear and working the wrong way, so it can't be an eyelid, right?

          The nictitating membrane is basically a third eyelid found in many critters, including lots of birds, fish, reptiles, and some mammals.   While I can't tell you if it was opening or closing, you can see from the photo that it works "across" the eye instead of "up and down".  Basically, it is either used for extra protection or to keep the eye lubricated. (In the case of this heron, thrusting of the head into the water to nail a tadpole, frog or fish, could be dangerous.  One slight jab or scrape with a stick or cattail stalk and he could have a problem.)  One study even suggests that the membrane is tightened on a woodpecker's eyes milliseconds before it slams its head into a tree;  it helps to hold the eyeballs in their sockets!  Newton's First Law (an object in motion....) can be a drag sometimes...
            You might be thinking "Wow, I wish I had one!  When I slammed my forehead into my desk  in frustration after I heard Glenn Beck last night, I'd swear my eyes almost flew out of my head!"  Well, some biologists think we used to have this membrane, too.  But, like our appendix, wisdom teeth, Darwin's Tubercle,  and common sense,  we basically don't use it anymore.  In the case of the membrane, it has all but disappeared.  
              If you want to see what is left of your nictitating membrane, find a mirror.  Stuffed in the corner of your eye, you'll find a small fold of basically transparent skin.  That is the pilca semilunaris.  Yup, that is your ancient eyeball protecting eyelid.  Cool stuff.   Make sure you fingers are dirty and and play with it.  Don't touch it.  You don't need to be sticking things in your eye!  However,  repeatedly saying "pilca semilunaris" goes over well at parties. Chicks dig it.

                By the way, the shutter speed on the exposure was 1/1250 of a second.  For the average person (read that as a non-drunk individual), the average blink is about 3/10s of a second.  So, the next time you are banging away with your camera, keep in mind that your camera's "eyelid" is moving much faster than your real eyelid.  

                  A very fortunate press of the shutter button, and low-and-behold, an eye-opening exposure.  Or was it an eye-closing exposure...?