Friday, December 30, 2011

Watch Yourself, Mr. Illitch

The jolly fat man was good to me a few days ago.  (That sounds awful.  Lets try again.)   

Christmas gifts, were, as usual, very generous.  Lots of good stuff, including cook books, a field guide to houses, a wonderful antique coffee mill, and what is clearly the most awesome gift ever - the gift card.

It absolutely blows me away when I read that 41 billion (with a "B") dollars in gifts cards have not been spent since 2005.  How is that possible?  When I get 'em, my mind starts racing with options.  "This or that? Maybe these or those?"  My head will explode if I don't spend mine in a week.  

So, armed with gift cards for both Crate and Barrel and Williams-Sonoma totaling in excess of 1.9 millions dollars (thanks Mom, Dad, and Becka!), I had some fun....

An egg cookbook. Looks good.  A breakfast cookbook.  Cool.   (I'm gonna fold those omelets correctly if is it the last thing I do, dammit...)

But as some point, a pizza thing took over.  Real pizzas.  REAL pizzas. REAL dough. 

It might have been prompted with a recent conversation.  

A few nights ago, friends were over for pizza. No, not chain pizza stuff.  The homemade stuff. No, not fancy homemade stuff.  Easy homemade stuff. You know... Boboli pizza crusts. They can go a long way.

Neal, a buddy from way back, was asking all sorts of questions (engineers do that sort of stuff).  "Don't you need a pizza stone?"  Well, no. Sure, they're nice, but not needed. Bobolis work on both cookies sheets and the oven rack.

"Don't you need to make the oven really hot?"  Nope.  Bobolis cook at temps any stove can manage.

Neal's questions prompted to me to basically suggest that all that stuff (high temps, stones, etc.) makes pizza making in the home a big pain in the pooper. Who needs all that when I can have Boboli.

So I find it kind of odd that, between the two stores, I found myself getting a pizza stone, a spring-form cake pan (for deep dish pizzas), a pizza pan thingy-ma-bob for easier serving and cutting, and a pizza cookbook, cleverly titled "Pizza".  I can't explain given it my comments to Neal just a few days ago, but it happened.

Oh, this is going to be fun.  

Take Sfinciune, for example.  Sure, the spelling is wacked.  As I understand English, "f" often preceeds "s", but that is not really the point here.  I can't say it, but I think I can make it!

How about the Pizza Bianca  (mozzarella and sage) or the pizza con pere, pecorino, Taleggio, salvia e miele (pear, pecorino, and Taleggio pizza with honey and sage).  Yeah, I'm in.

Sorry Mr. Illitch.  Sure, you own half the sports teams in Detroit, own a pizza empire, and have given generously of your time and money to make Detroit a better place.  

But, there is a new man in town and he's making pizzas........ as soon as he buys a pizza peel...

...and, learns what the hell he's doing.......

(Or maybe I could just use the snow shovel in the garage. It's certainly not getting much use with this mild winter we're having....)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yup, This Sums It Up!

So I am here doing some final paperwork for the Anchor Bay Christmas Bird Count.  I wrote about it here.

It is such a long day.  Fun. But, horribly long.

A few moments ago, I ran a Google search for "Anchor Bay Christmas Count." I was just interested in whatever I could find.

A few images popped up that might summarize the event.

This is how I feel at the beginning of the day if I don't get enough sleep...

This is how I feel at the end of the day regardless.....

Apparently, Anchor Bay is a distribution company for horror movies......

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rollin'......And Not

Christmas.  It can be so much to so many. Bad family photos.  Superstitions.  Eating too much.  Drinking too much.  Horrible wastes of electricity.  I could keep going.

I wont lie. The gift exchange is nice. I like getting gifts.  I know what I want for Christmas this year.  More on that later.  

For some, like me, the Holidays are also a time to do some birding.

Maybe I have mentioned it already in a previous post, but in case I didn't, the Christmas Bird Count is basically the granddaddy of all bird surveys. On the designated day during the Christmas Holidays (hence the name), teams spread out across a circle 15 miles in diameter.  Each bird is counted (both as a species and individual).  Year after year, numbers can be compared and trends can be detected. Good fun, really. 

So, with the Anchor Bay CBC lined up for this past Saturday, the day started at some stupid hour of the morning.  After the one hour drive, buddy Don Sherwood, co-worker Natalie Ray, and I were near Harson's Island for our traditional 6am breakfast.  Karl Overman joined us, making the team four deep. Harson's Island was our section of the count circle.

Two birds stood out.

The Gray Catbird was simply a super find.  Normally, this time of year, this bird should be in the deep southeastern United States and places like Texas.  While not unheard of this time of year, this bird was certainly comfy in a bush full of berries. I suspect he will be around for a least a few more days.

Eating lunch in San Sousi (the tiny “town” on the island) gave us a chance to study another super bird.    The Iceland Gull, originally spotted by Natalie,  was drifting down the channel.  Backwards.  No real explanation for that one. Seemingly perfectly content, it never budged, flinched or flew. Bizarre if you ask me. Ducks tend to at least sometimes look like there doin' somethin'.    (For you non-birders, notice that the bird does not have black wingtips.  That was a big clue to us that it was not a run-of-the-mill gull!).

55 species is not a bad for a day's work, er....I mean day's fun.  Other nice birds for the day include both Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owls, Horned Grebe, and Carolina WrenHooded Mergs were cool, too.  With the super additions, like the Gull and Catbird, nobody can complain about the day.  

We rolled right along, as you might say.

Well, yes, we can. 

A few months back, I secured a new ride.  Chevy was interested in buying my Saturn Aura and letting me use some money towards a new car. After running the numbers, it would have been stupid for me to pass it up!  With all the positive press the Cruze was getting, I went for it. 

All in all, it is a slick little car.  Chevy put some serious thought in to it so it could get better gas mileage. Tweaks in the aerodynamics were made including cool, little grille shutters that close when the you are in cruising speeds and underbody panels that improve air flow beneath the car.

Plus, the car was designed to be lighter.  Welds were shortened, backseat armrests were ditched and the spare tire was dumped in favor of a can of fix-a-flat and an air compressor. After all, you lug that spare tire around and hardly ever use it. 

It all adds up. Trust me.  Gas mileages run from 35 to 43 mile per gallon depending on what I'm doing.  You can't beat that!

But, ooohhhhh, that spare tire.  You can see where this is going, can't you?

A long story short, horrible sounds came from the wheel well as a chunk of whatever poked my tire.  Pulling over (and swearing a bit, too!), the rear tire was flat.  Very flat. Hugely, immensely flat.  Fix-a-flat does nothing when it pours in the nozzle of the tire and gushes out the hole the size of your finger.

Rolling no more.

Two hours, a tow-truck and a quarter of million dollars later, the car was dumped at the dealership.  Monday morning, they can find me a new tire.

This will all look familiar to them.

A few weeks ago, I was driving and picked up a chunk of metal.  The tire?  Hugely flat. The tow truck.  Time lost.  The exact same story.

Yes, folks, two flat tires in three weeks. 

Frustratingly, I had to bail out of Sunday's Clinton CBC. No can do if car no go.

Fortunately, when  I bought the car, I bought the tire insurance.  Chevy used the low roll-resistance tires from the Volt on the Cruze.  Quite expensive, as I understand.  Any tire replacements or wheel replacements are covered.  So, outside of tow trucks and all, this is costing me a few pennies a month.

So, good birds were had. No complaints there. But dammit, this tire thing is getting old....

This all brings me back to my Christmas wish - maybe Santa can bring me a puncture proof tire that contributes to great gas mileage.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Arctic Gnomes

Texas can be quite a hot place. This past summer, they had a horrible stretch of days with temperatures over 100 degrees. I have visited there in the past and I am telling you the place can be brutal. The combination of high temps and high humidity will suck the life right out of you.

Yesterday,  I sent a picture to my buddy Neal. He lives in Texas. Here it is.

I told him there was a Snowy Owl in the photo and that I would send along better pics later. After all, the image was just taken with my iPhone to set the mood.  (The owl, by the way, is on the roof of the left home to the left of the white pipe.)

His response suggested to me that years of oppressive Texas heat finally got to him. Here it is:

Hmmmmm. Given that it is only a blurry 10x16 pixels, you could make the argument that it is actually a white garden gnome. I see those on roofs all the time. Very common.

He even sent along his heavily cropped image of my original photo. I guess, with electrolytes crashing, sweat in his eyes, and the nonsense of Rick Perry in the background, one might think this is a gnome.

It bothers me to see an otherwise intelligent guy falter due to his environmental stress.

If I could have sent this one, I would have done so.

Or this one...

Or this one. She is clearly picking the leprechaun out of her ear.

Rest assured, my heat-compromised friend, it is a Snowy Owl.

As far as I can tell, this is an immature female.  She would have been born in the early summer of 2011.  In short, not all Snowy Owls are completely white. In fact, few are.  A mostly white individual would be an adult male.  The immature male, immature female, and adult female have varying degrees of barring (those dark marks).  This article sums it up pretty nicely.   (Don't worry about that bursa thing. It is an internal organ that shrinks as they get older.  It is gone by six months of age.  Using that as an aging tool would involve shoving your finger in her butt. I don't advise that...)

As it turns out, this winter is shaping up to be one of the most impressive Snowy Owl irruptions in decades. Reports are pouring in from all over the place (even Hawaii, believe it it not). I have been birding for basically twenty years, and I have not seen anything like it. They are truly everywhere.

I think it is important to note what is really going on here. This bird did not migrate here just 'cuz. Food resources to the north have apparently crashed. With starvation as the only other option, she, and hundreds of others, set a course for a more southern latitude. Stay and die or move along and hopefully get some chow. It is not a temperature thing; it is a food thing.

In this case, this bird is one of three birds hanging out along a stretch of road in Macomb County. I thought it would be fun to pack up the car with friends and family and go check it out.

It turned out to be one of those birding episodes where we did not have to find the bird. Checking the road and seeing nothing of note on our first pass, we saw a group of birders assembled and clearly looking at something. Hell, don't look for the bird - look for the birders!

So will this be my only Snowy Owl of the winter? No way. Not with things shaping up as they have been. I have three Christmas Bird Counts lined up. We'll find more, I'm sure.

I'll be on the lookout, too, for small, white gnomes. I have yet to see any of them. Of course, it is much cooler here in Michigan.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Good 'Guini

A few nights ago, I opted to try a new Jamie Oliver recipe.  I'm not sure what got into me, but I whipped up his Crab Risotto with Lemon, Herbs, and Fennel. Not bad, to be honest.  I think the Pea & Shrimp and Asparagus & Pesto Risottos are much better, but whatever; I tried it.

One little problem. The recipe called for a "small bunch of parsley".  That can't happen in a grocery store. There is no such thing as a "small bunch of parsley".  You get a "dumptruck load of Parsley". 

So great - now what do I do with all those herbs?

During lunch, I was tooting around with the coolest device on the planet (the iPhone for those of you still living in 1972).  For the astounding price of $2.99, I updated one of my recipe applications. has developed an app that basically functions like their website. Gillions of recipes, advice, and all sorts of things people like me will never need.  Plus, after someone posts a recipe and others try it, they can comment and make suggestions. Pretty awesome stuff, really.

One amazing aspect of the app is this - input the ingredients you want to include (or the ones you don't want to include) and it will search the database for the appropriate recipes.  If you input "pasta", "wasp stingers", and "toadstools", it will look for it. How cool is that?

So, after entering "parsley", I quickly scanned the list. Within seconds, I settled on my next dinner: Linguini with a White Clam Sauce. Here is the recipe. Alot of that parsley disappeared. 

Damn good. Really damned good.  Really, really damned good.  Easy to make, too. I followed a suggestion from a person who had already tried it. I added a quarter stick (of butter, not dynamite), and some crushed red pepper flakes.  Did I tell you it was good?  Restaurant quality good. The only thing that could have made it better would have been the use of fresh clams, not canned.

Of course, one of the best beers to go along with seafood is the India Pale Ale.  Why not make it a double?  

The Conniption Fit Double IPA (#1,144) from Atwater Block Brewery was excellent.  At 92 IBU (International Bitterness Units), the outlandishly hoppy finish was a perfect fit for the peculiar tastes of seafood. Slightly paler than an straight-up amber with just  wisp of a head after the pour, the creamy body danced on your tongue. When the hops started to kick, it was big and powerful. I had this meal a few days ago, and I am still getting the lingering hop finish (Not really, but you get my point).  5 out of 5. No doubt about it.

Linguini with a White Clam Sauce and one of the best Double IPAs I have had in a long time.  What a meal!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Black-tailed Gull: Take 2

Last week Wednesday was a not-so-fun day.  With reports of a Black-tailed Gull in Ashtabula, Ohio, we opted to head off in the dark.  

Trust me. It was totally worth it.  The Black-tailed Gull is normally found in East Asia.  Japan, Korea and the like.   That makes it a Code 4 rarity for those of you familiar with the codes established by the American Birding Association.  One was only three hours away and well worth it if it can be found.

That is a big "if"....

Arrival in Ashtabula was shortly after sunrise.  8:30am maybe? After checking the Harbor from various locations known to local birders as the Cement Bridge, the Museum, and the Park, minutes turned to hours and by 3pm, defeat had been conceded.  Damn it.  Dinner at the Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland helped to sooth aching morale as did the drinks at the Fort Street Brewery back in Michigan.  (It was the tapping of Doug's 500th species of beer. We would not have missed that for the world!)

But as the Thanksgiving weekend moved along, reports of the gull in Ohio still came in. Granted, it was tough, but people were getting it.  One common theme emerged - be on the Cement Bridge at DAWN for a gull fly-by. 

So on Sunday, my alarm went off at 2:30am. With iPhone in hand, I pondered the evidence.  A three-hour drive in the dark.  Black-tailed Gull. Possible rain. Black-tailed Gull.  3 hours drive to get back home.  Black-tailed Gull. Loss of sleep. Black-tailed Gull.   

Decision made.

By 6:00am, I was in Ashtabula having some quick eats at Mcdonald's. By 6:30am, I was at the cement bridge. Shortly thereafter I was joined by Heather, a birder from Columbus.  

By 7:15am, there was enough light to start really looking around.  In ones and twos, soon to be tens and twenties and fifties, gull swarms moved off the waterfront and headed upriver.  Overhead. To the right of us. To the left. Lots of sky to cover.  When the sky was empty of gulls, it was worth it to check the water and land below us again.  With the sun rising behind a thick wall of clouds, lighting was a nightmare - everything was so dark.  As others rolled into the parking lot, more eyes contributed to the cause. 

At one point, I noticed a peculiar white blob near a train.  In the dim light, I came to the conclusion it was not a garbage bag (trust me - it can happen).  I had Heather come back over (she had a bigger scope which would gather more light) and double check. As I peered through her scope, the bag turned its head and looked my way.   Snowy Owl.  Sweet. You can see it (sort of...) in the picture below.  Using iPhone software, I figured this gem was about 700 yards away.

(For the record, it is turning out to be a super year for Snowy Owls. Reports are just pouring in from all the place.  Snowy Owls - coming to a field near you.  Or a house, light pole, tractor, barn, rocky berm, or anything else they care to stand on...)

Cool as it was, I didn't drive back to Ashtabula to see a Snowy Owl. After gawking for a few minutes, conversation went back to the gull.  With already hundreds of gulls past us, many were starting to wonder if we missed it.  From there, the plan would have been to exchange phone numbers, spread out and find the bird.  

Of course, having spent almost all day on Wednesday with that plan, I decided that the incoming flock of gulls needed to be checked. 

One bird at a time.  No. No. Nope.  Maybe? No.  Not that one. Or that one.  Ooooh.  Black back.  Black upper wings. White trailing edge.  As it banked and sallied back and forth, the black tail was obvious. A BLACK TAIL!!! 

"I got it!!!" was all I could muster.  From that moment, all eyes where looking off into the distance as I called out marks on the horizon.  "Moving left. I have a utility tower.  It is moving left. It just dodged right but is back left and heading away. I have treetops. It just crossed a green house with white trim. It...just disappeared up the river........"

Unfortunately,  not everybody got it. 

Sadly, I never had a chance for a photo of any kind.  To get a feel for this bird, go here, here and here.  That tail. Awesome.  These pics, by the way, are of the Ohio bird, not just any Black-tailed Gull.

With the key bird in the bag, and a bonus bird to boot, I opted to put in a half-effort to find the bird upriver. A couple from California missed the gull by about 30 seconds (really) but they were especially interested in seeing the Owl. After showing them what I believe is Ohio's first Snowy Owl for the 2011-12 season, I set a course for home.  Rain was imminent so I didn't feel the need to linger. 

Long drives after a successful chase are always shorter. By 1:10pm, I was hope. By 1:11pm, I was in bed. By 1:12pm, I was sleeping.  Naps can be so good sometimes. 

The Black-tailed Gull is my 656th bird (lifetime).  It also happened to be my 239th bird for Ohio. The Snowy Owl was my 238th bird for the state. 

#657?  Who knows. Anything goes at this point!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The West Comes East: A Michigan Pacific Loon

After a rather frustrating few days (unsuccessful bird chases to Ohio, flat tires on a holiday weekend, and other frustrations (including the knowledge that the dregs of society will  pepperspray and shoot each other at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday), today was just plain pleasant. 

Good birds have a way of making that happen.

True to its name, the Pacific Loon shouldn't really be here in Michigan.  A breeder along the northern reaches of the continent (Alaska and northwest Canada), they usually disperse south along the west coast for the winter.  Now  and then, they come inland; even to the Great Lakes believe it or not.

So yesterday, a birder found one in Monroe County. Sterling State Park to be exact.  37 times this bird has been recorded in Michigan.  With the Park only twenty minutes down the road, I figured it was worth a quick trip.  

Upon arriving at the northwest corner of the south lagoon, I found Cathy Carroll sitting there. Pulling up a rock at the water, we were joined moments later by Jim Fowler.  In front of us sat the loon.

Over the next 30 minutes or so, the clock-wise feeding circle took it in and out of camera range.  As it tooled around and dove, we had a great chance to check out the relevant field marks.  Subtle bill structure (compared to other loons), a nice, smooth, rounded head, grayish tones on the back of the neck and a solid white throat with a "chinstrap".  The scaling on the back suggests an immature bird (born this year).  

At times, it was not 35 yards out.  With a 400mm lens, I managed a fair shot.  You can even see the water droplets on the bill and head. 

This final picture shows just how different, and simultaneously similar, a Pacific Loon and a Common Loon can  appear.  The Common, on the right, has a larger noggin with a forehead lump, and a heavier bill.  How nice it was for the birds to cooperate.

So there you have it.  My third Pacific Loon for Michigan and the first for Monroe County. I now have 211 species for that county. My Michigan 2011 list now stands at a pitiful 195 species. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Peregrinations And Speed defines "peregrination" as a course of travel or journey.  While the definition is not very detailed, I think it is fair to say that many would conjure up the idea that the journey might be a long one.  

Sure, one could argue that a half-mile walk to the party store would be, by definition, a peregrination, but it just doesn't sound right. Compare that with a walk to a party store 500 miles away. That might be a peregrination we could all sink out teeth in to, right?

So, when this bird shot past the hawk watch a few days ago, I couldn't help but to think where it was going.  

Peregrine Falcons, true to their name, "wander". I don't mean wander in the sense of lost; I mean wander in the sense of covering great distances.   Using fancy-schmancy satellite stuff, we now know that populations of this species that breed along arctic cliffs will migrate to South America.  that's thousands of miles - one way! Check out this image.  How is that for cool?

It moved pretty effortlessly, as you might expect. Speed? I can't tell you.  The books say a cruising speed could be around 40 mph or so. I got the impression this bird was moving a bit slower than that, but I can't be sure.  They can certainly fly faster or slower as needed.  It only makes sense - wanderers can choose a destination so why not choose a speed?
What I can say, with certainty, is this: the bird was not flying at top speed.  When these things dive, they almost re-define speed.  Take a moment and check out this video and you'll see what I mean.

So, while we don't know where this bird started or where it will end up, I'm not worried. It'll get there....and at the speed of its choosing.

Maybe JRR Tolkien's quote would apply here:  "All those that wander are not lost."  

Perhaps I can add my own quote: "Wanders can fly pretty God-damned fast....."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Nice Day

This past Sunday, I had the chance to spend some time in the park.  A few highlights...

On the drive in, I found this Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree.  He just sat there without a care in the world. They are usually quite jumpy.  Looking at his left leg, you can see the band. Believe it or not, part of it is readable in my original photo!  I contacted one of the local banders and it turns out he banded it that morning! 

This Golden Eagle made a nice pass.  White in the wings and tail with a clean trailing edge.  It was born just a few months ago.  Boy, you can really see those golden feathers on the back of his neck (hackles).  A stunning bird, no doubt about it!

After the watch petered out, I made a short trip to the shoreline at the south end of the park.  The Long-tailed Duck was just a bit too far out to get a shot, but this Ruddy Duck was within spittin' range.  I don't think I have ever been so close to one!

The temps this morning are probably the chilliest so far this season. Yesterday, we even had some of those big gloppy snowflakes.   I'll be gearing up shortly with camera in hand. We'll see what happens. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I'm at a wedding in Detroit. Ghettoblaster in bottles. Motor City Brewing Works.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Birds And Physics

October has been a bit of a drag.  Sure, we have had nice days, but many have been far from nice.  Relentless clouds.  Rain.  Pretty depressing days in general, if you ask me.

So, it was with quite a bit of joy I was able to spend my Saturday at the Hawkwatch. All of the sloppy weather had basically backed up the bird traffic.  For the better part of the day, birds were on the go. Not just a few, mind you.  Thousands.  14 raptor species total. That is a damned good haul.

Birds.  Conversation.  Photos. Even a bit of physics. Physics?  Really. Just keep readin'.

Bald Eagles put on a good show.  Sure, you can see them year-round, but isn't it nice when they pose?

After watching thousands of Sharp-shinned Hawks saunter by over the last few years, it was nice to FINALLY secure a usable photo of an adult.  If you look at the breast, you can clearly see the orange-red marks. We don't know how old this bird is, but we know it was not born in 2011.  In that case, there would be brown streaks running down the chest.  It could two years old or eight. We can't tell.

You can compare the "Sharpie" above with the Cooper's Hawk below. They age in a similar sort of way. Orange-red on the breast?  Adult. Brown streaks? A young bird.  Don't read too much into that "fork-tailed" look.  I am not sure what to make of it, but it has nothing to do with the ID.

Interestingly, somebody somewhere knows a bit more about this bird than I do.  Check out this enlarged portion of the same image:

This bird is banded!  That aluminum ring has a number on it that is cataloged in a massive database.  If it were possible to read those numbers, we could find out who banded the bird, when, where, and how much it weighed.  Some researchers may have taken feather or blood samples for their research, too.  How cool is that?

It was a nice day for Rough-legged Hawks, too.  Goodness. If we are seeing them, winter can't be too far behind..... 

Sadly, it was one of those days for my buddy, Dave.   Let me explain.

He was there when I arrived at 11am. Within minutes, we drummed up our wishlist of birds for the day.  Given the weather and time of year, we wanted the late season trifecta: Golden Eagle, Rough-Legged Hawk and Northern Goshawk.  By 2:30pm or so, we had scored both  the Golden and Roughlegs.  By 2:40pm, Dave had to move along and head home.  

In birding lore, the departure of a birder from the scene increases the chances for other birders to see the species so wanted by the departed.  In this case, Dave wanted a Goshawk but left, thereby increasing the chances of seeing it for those that stay.

As far as I can tell, a birder leaving the scene causes a disturbance in the space-time fabric, altering the reality around us. This disturbance causes us to veer off on a slightly different, but parallel, timeline.  The disturbance could be as simple a delay at a gas station, leaving for home, or even just a walk to the bathroom.  For the non-physicists out there, it might be like pulling on a thread that is hanging from a sweater.  With just a little effort, tugging on the thread can unravel the garment.  

Dave, to his credit, knew the thread of space-time was attached to the bumper of his car.  More importantly, as a man and husband, he is keenly aware of the physics involving the "Angry Wife Continuity".  Failure to comply with previously arranged timeline specs (ie: "Dave, you have to be home by 4pm") would result in a complete and total failure of, well, life in general. He would be sucked into the Black Hole of Scorn. 

He was reminded that he would be the "sacrificial birder" and was thanked by all.  As he drove off, he pulled the string just a bit too much.   At 2:47pm, not 10 minutes after his departure, the Gos zipped by the watch.  Had he NOT left, the bird would have changed course and slipped by unseen.  

Sadly, the Northern Goshawk photos didn't turn out well.  Backlighting is simply not good at a hawkwatch.  So be it.  But, many of us saw it, thanks to Dave's teamwork and keen understanding of physics.   For what it's worth, here's the photo: 

On behalf of all those present, thanks Dave! It was a great science lesson!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Life And Limb For Flood Victims - #1,106

A few days, a friend of mine and I had a chance to split a killer beer.  It wasn't until I checked my "This Day in History" iPhone app a day or two later I realized how odd of the whole situation was.  

Life and Limb (# 1,106) is an oddity in the beer world so far as I can tell.  Rarely, at best, will two brewers get together for the common goal of brewing something awesome. In my limited experience,  Infinium is the only other example that comes to mind right now.

A cooperative effort between the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Inc. and Sierra Nevada Brewing  Company, Life and Limb basically defies description.  When this beer was brewed in 2009, it sold out nationally in two weeks.  They recently brewed it again.  While officially an American Strong Ale, we found characters that spanned the spectrum of beer.  Apparently, they set out to brew something totally different. They did. 

First, the bottle was corked.  Too cool.  Visually, the beer was basically black.  Swirling it around in the snifter allowed it to coat the glass nicely before it slowly slid back down.  You could almost feel the creaminess with your eyeballs.  Dark fruits, dark sugars (like molasses or brown sugar), and the alcohol (10.2%) were easily noted, too.   Interestingly enough, I SWEAR I was getting a hint of bubblegum in there. I can't describe it.  Realistically, it was likely a combination of the birch and maples syrups that were added. 

The taste, admittedly, was a step back from the aroma. I am not telling you it was bad.  It was excellent. But with the wonderful aromas, I was hoping the beer would taste as good as it smelled. It didn't. You might think of it like a touchdown vs. a field goal.  7 points as opposed to 3 points. Both are good, but one is certainly better than the other.  While it originally struck me as being similar to a stout or porter on the tongue, it slowly changed to something more like a barleywine.  It is not very often that I find myself drinking a beer that changes styles as I go.

All in all, I found the beer to be very enjoyable.  Four out of five.

So, it is with a heavy heart I bring the second part of the story.  If you read the title, you have to wonder about the Flood.  The biblical flood?  No, that never happened.  The tsunami that struck Japan a few months back? No, that is horribly serious.

I am talking about the London Beer Flood of 1814.  

Okay, it is not as serious as the tsunami, but it is every bit as awful.  This past Monday was the anniversary.

The Meux and Company Brewery, established in St. Giles, a low-end district of London, was the scene.  On October 17th, 1814, one vat,  containing thousands of gallons of beer, ruptured.  The force of the free-flowing brew ruptured the other vats.  Within a few seconds, almost 387,000 gallons of beer swept out the door.  

We need to put that in perspective.  Forget visualizing gallons of milk or bathtubs.  Lets think swimming pools. An Olympic Pool is 6.5 feet deep, 164 feet long and 82 feet wide (2x100x50 meters).  That gives us a volume of about 660,000 gallons.  Lets make the math easy and say half the pool is beer.  Check the picture below.  Now you're thinkin'.....

With half a pool of beer flowing out the door, everything in the way was crushed, shoved aside, or carried away as debris.  The low end district has poor building conditions.  Two buildings collapsed.  One wall at the local pub crumbled.  Many families lived in what we would call basements. Beer, like water, was seeking the lowest level and flooded the occupied low areas.

Eight people died. 


With ages ranging from 3 to 63, some drown while others died from injuries.  A bar maid survived three hours trapped in rubble. Surely, there are other stories like hers, now lost to time. 

One fellow died from alcohol poisoning. Before you think he fufilled every drunken frat boy's dream - "If I ever find myself drowning in beer, I'll just drink it all! - he apparently died a few days later.  With hundreds of thousands of gallons of beer literally on the streets, people were swarming the place.  Kettles, bottles, bowls, cups and anything else that would hold fluids were used to salvage the free booze.  The fellow probably just had too much.......

Sadly, sources don't all agree.  Some references say no one died from alcohol poisoning. Other sources say that barmaid did die. In any case, a beer flood occurred and people perished.  Ugh. 

Sure, beer can be fun, exciting, and new; Life and Limb certainly was.  But I find it kind of peculiar to think I sampled a life-highlighting beer near the anniversary of a gruesome beer disaster that claimed innocent lives.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#1105 - A Train Wreck? Hardly!

In the modern lexicon, "train wreck" has come to be known as a disaster.  I could go on and on on this one...

The economy. A train wreck.

The oil spill in the Gulf.  A train wreck.

Rick Perry as President.  A train wreck.  (I have a crystal ball. Trust me on this one.)

Ever wonder about the origins of the name?  With trains being huge and somewhat fast, the 'ole F=MA equation holds true, for sure.  Where M=mass and A=acceleration, they combine for quite a bit of force.  When big, fast things wreck, that energy has to go somewhere, right?

Maybe it was the intentional train crash in Crush, Texas that brought the concept to the forefront.  In 1896, some dolt thought it would be good publicity to drive two trains into each other at full speed.  Not model trains, mind you - real ones.  With an estimated 40,000 people watching, the two trains collided head-on at a combined speed of about 90 mph.  The boilers literally exploded like bombs.  Three people died. More were injured.

Maybe it was the disaster in Saint Michel de Maurienne, France in 1917.  Horribly overloaded with 1,000 French soldiers going home on leave, the train, short on brake power, descended a slope outside of town.  With speeds estimated at 80mph in an area engineers posted at 25mph, the train derailed.  Fires, fueled by ammo and grenades carried by the soldiers, hampered rescue.  By the time it was over, an estimated 700 soldiers were dead. 135 were buried as Unknowns.  The train's engineer knew the risk and was not going to drive to the train. Because it was a military operation, he was, sadly, ordered by a superior officer to make the run  Fortunately, the quick thinking of a station attendant up the hill likely prevented more tragedy.  Watching the train pass his station at catastrophically stupid speeds, he called ahead with warnings.  A train carrying British soldiers was delayed.  That situation woulda sucked bad.

Train wrecks. They are brutal.

That said, #1,105, Train Wreck Ale, from the Mount Pleasant Brewing Company is the farthest thing from a disaster. 

In a pint glass, the pour was a disappointment.  I'll admit that.  The head was gone before it started.  Visually, though, the amber tones looked good (it is officially an amber ale).  The nose had suggestions of a mild sweetness and perhaps a tad of dark fruit?  On the tongue, it was all smooooooth.  The hops on the tongue quickly gave to the malts. Sweet and nice.  With the hops still there, but in the background, the finish faded with some of those sweet tones still lingering.  Damn good.  Carbonation was not overpowering.  (I later learned that honey and maple syrup were key ingredients.)  An easy four-out-of-five.

All in all, the Train Wreck isn't.  The brewer has all sorts of train-oriented names for their beers.  Apparently, this name is a reference to the drinker if they had too many.  At 8.2% alcohol, an ignorant consumer could be a pile of rubble.  

Watch this stuff.  Be the smart station attendant in France. Don't be the moron in Crush or the superior officer in Saint Michel de Maurienne. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One Fair Photo

So I had a memory card in my camera that needed to be checked.  A few days at the Detroit River Hawkwatch usually means a few pictures, right? With luck, I can secure a good one, right?


Dozens of photos were taken. Most are somewhere between junk and trash. Bad light.  Soft focus at best.  Poor position on the bird (a head turned the wrong way, for example).  

All my whining aside, I did manage to find one that is....okay.

I know. A pretty poor shot overall.  It is just a bird in the sky to many, I guess. But to me, it is a Red-shouldered Hawk.

How in the world can I tell?  The shape rules out falcons (they have pointed wings). The tail, while a squeak long to my eye, is far too short (when compared to the rest of the bird) to be an accipiter or Northern Harrier.  Eagle? No way. Osprey?  Nope.  Turkey Vulture?  Uhhhh, no.  All are just wrong.

We are now left with the buteos (BOOT-ee-ohs).  We don't really need to do the rundown on the possible eastern buteos (there are five species) as one fieldmark is painfully obvious. No, it is not the tail pattern.

Look at the wingtips.  Just inside the black tips you can clearly see an area that almost seems to glow.  Hawkwatchers call those "crescents" based on their resemblance to the moon during certain parts of the month.  As I understand it, these areas on the wing are not white.  They lack pigment.  No browns or black or tans.  Just structure. No color.  

We could almost think of them as being like small waxpaper windows on a large, wooden frame. Put a light behind it and the frame will block most of the light.  The light striking the waxpaper simply passes right through it.  On a sunny day, the waxpaper might even seem to glow!  

So, there have you it.  So many photos.  So many mistakes. But this one came out okay under the circumstances.  ID was a cinch.  Clear as a moon-shaped window on a sunny day.....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It Can't Be Just Me

Am I the only one who thinks this is funny?

I thought we had an obesity epidemic!

I am currently at Taco Bell getting lunch.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tashmoo - Part 2

Detroit is getting exciting!  The Tigers are doing well!  Hell, the Lions are, too!  Who woulda thought that, eh?

But, of course, we have our troubles. We all know it.  Unemployment. A stagnant economy.  Forclosure rates.  I could on. 

What can we offer that might offset some of that bad?  


While "Tashmoo" might mean "meeting place" for some or be a sidewheel steamboat to others, it is now a biergarten.  Yes, biergarten. Not beer-garden.  The short story goes like this.....

This fellow, Aaron, and his friend, Suzanne, read an article about pop-up biergartens in New York. (These pop-ups were, of course, influenced by the biergartens of Europe.)  Basically, a vacant lot, with permission from the city, accommodates folks and their beer in a fun and festive atmosphere.  The main goal is to have fun, be cool and enjoy people and beer.  

Aaron (whom I met and spoke to for a while) and Suzanne wondered why Detroit couldn't do it, too. After pursuing the proper paperwork, Tashmoo Biergarten was born (fermented?) in a vacant lot in the West Village neighborhood.  (For you former Metro-Detroiters, it is down by Belle Isle).

First impressions were a bit mixed.  The property line was marked with wooden palettes set upright at fences.  Tables were old doors from old buildings.  Benches, made from 2x4s, were simple, but well crafted. Portable bathrooms were in a corner.  The bar was in a corner (obviously a different one!) with corn hole along the front fence.   Food service was along a different fence.  A few bucks bought you a few tickets.  A few tickets could secure some beer - the better the beer, the more the tickets.  Recycling stations were scattered around. 

After we settled in, everything was just great. Really.  The palettes? Free.  The neighbors? All for the project.  The City of Detroit?  In.  (Otherwise, they would have rejected the idea, right?) No drunks. No SWAT teams. Nothing stupid or crazy. Just good people enjoying good Michigan beer!

For the record, I secured a new beer!  #1,101 was the Brik Irish Red Ale from Millking It Productions.  Damn good.  The sweet malty tones were simply awesome.  Good.  I mean really, really good.  

To get a feel for the evening, check out these photos and read this articleThis one, too.  

I got the impression from Aaron that the whole temporary feel (the palattes and all) was just to test the waters.  With various folks coming together on their own time and with limited funds, it makes good sense. Dumping money into a flop-of-a-project would be frustrating.

However, 1000 people is not a flop.  The first day, last week Sunday, had 1000 people.  By the time I left yesterday, Aaron estimated 700 or so. The Tigers and Lions on the TV at the same time in the afternoon probably did not help.  But 700?  Cool!   I wonder what next Sunday will bring!

If all goes well, they plan on setting up something more permanent.  Better fencing.  Perhaps a permanent bar.  Maybe permanent bathrooms.  Some shelters of some sort?  There is certainly lots for them to think about.

Will I get back there? Yes. Definitely.   I will have to watch the weather. It was quite chilly by the time we left.  Maybe the next time around they will have some porters on hand. Now THAT is a cold weather beer!