Friday, March 18, 2011

#961 - Not A Pot 'O Gold

I hate St. Patrick's Day.  Sorry, folks, but you're not Irish.  At least most you aren't.  Parading around in your green t-shirt from 1986 is gross, the little shamrock antennae are pretty silly lookin', and starting to drink jugs of crappy green beer at 7AM  so you can be drunk by 9AM is just another step down a bad road.

So, in the spirit of my high school days, I rebelled against the colors of the masses with the ultimate color (or actually lack of color) - black.  

In a sense, it it like high school.  Remember Spirit Week?  Dumb. Who cares.  Spirit Week so often meant "support your sports team". Why.  They didn't support me during a chemistry test, did they? No.  During the day I was supposed to wear my school colors, I wore black. Head to toe. Take that, school spirit!

So, what did I do last night? After attending a cancer fund-raising dinner-auction-thingy, I retreated to my digs for a relaxing evening. My friend suggested that I should have had an Irish beer.  Well, I didn't have any on hand. 

But I sorta did.

The O'FAllon Brewery is based just outside of St. Louis.  Okay, that is the extent of the Irish thing  O'Fallon! Get it? So, a quick tour of the town's website turned up an interesting fact - the first settler was a German!  As the town moved along in size, they named it after John O'Fallon.  Presumably an Irish fellow, huh?

Anyhow, the Black Hemp (#961) was really not to my liking.  A pot of gold, it was not.  Black? Sure was.  On the nose, the aroma was certainly malty, but an almost earth-like tone was there, too. On top of that? Add a bit of pepper. I am thinking that was the hemp seeds.  Sadly, on the tongue, the peppery-hoppy tones really started to cut.  Not good.  It is too bad really, because the texture of the beer was smoooooooooth and silky. The foamy lace looked great too.  Some serious components were missing - like good taste.  2 out of 5.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sir John's Bird

Saturday was fun.  A day off. A good bird in the state. Road trip!

In the early hours (6:30am) I picked up Don and off we went. Location?  Grand Rapids, Michigan. Specifically, the Grand River between the Ann Street and Leonard Street Bridges. 

As you can see in this craptacular photo (175 yards with a 400mm lens on a cloudy day), our target bird clearly has a vertical (almost inverted!) forehead, a tear-dropped patch on the head that comes higher than the eye, and a series of very clear white blocks on the black back/wings.   If you look just in front of the black wings, there is that tiny, black "spur" that stretches down towards the waterline.  If you have those marks, you got it.  A Barrow's Goldeneye

Now, compare the above photo with this next one. Can you tell which is the Barrow's?

The right one, right? Err...correct? Um...left is wrong... Ehhhh, the one on the right is the Barrow's Goldeneye.  The one on the left is a Common Goldeneye.  Did you notice the difference in head shape? Did you notice that the spot in front of the eye is a different shape? Birders notice these things.  

To make matters even more intriguing, sometimes boy and girl ducks have a species identity problem (perhaps they should spend some time with birders).  Every now then, Mr. or Ms. Barrow's Goldeneye gets...ahem...."acquainted" with the opposite sex of the other species.  The little duckies turn out to have traits from both species. These damned hybrids are the bane of birders as they make identification a bit challenging. In addition, if a hybrid is confirmed, a birder can't count the bird. 

So, if this bird showed traits of being a Common/Barrow's cross, I could not count it on my Michigan list.  Fortunately, everything adds up.

So, where does this put me? My Michigan list now stands at 345 species.  I have  recorded the bird in Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, and now Michigan.  On the drive there, for some reason, I was thinking this was bird 341.  Nope. That was the Purple Gallinule last spring. 

So, after securing a stellar Michigan bird (less than 15 records) and what amounted to my second breakfast, Don and I plotted a course for home.  He had to be home for dinner (really).  Along the way, we found ourselves playing a game naturalists often spend time doing on the road - Name That Roadkill.  Deer.  Coyote. Raccoon.  Possible fox. Probable muskrat.  Skunk.  FIVE (!) Mink! I would have been impressed with two! 

The saddest of the bunch was a bird we basically both ID'ed at 75mph.  Brown and tan and  about the size of a two-liter bottle of pop, the tones were very soft.  It was certainly an owl. Too small for a Great Horned Owl, but too big for Eastern Screech, we basically looked at each other and agreed it had to be a Long-eared Owl.  After turning around, we confirmed it.  Sad.  Fortunately, it was in basically pristine condition.  He'll be mounted.  The bird. Not Don.

Oh, by the way, you might be wondering who "Barrow" is (or was). No, it was not named for the location (as in Alaska).  It was named after a fellow by the name of...? Care to guess? Barrow! You're so smart.  Sir John Barrow was an English chap (a Baron, in fact) who was a huge supporter of Arctic expeditions.  The type specimen was taken in Iceland  (an oddly displaced population considering most Barrow's Goldeneyes are found west of the Rocky Mountains).  The bird bearing his name was introduced to science in 1789.

And yes, I got Don home in time for dinner.....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

#958 - A Sweet Treat

Now and then, a brewer just goes wild and manages to capture a near-perfect mix of seemingly obvious non-beer ingredients.  Peanut butter and jelly, for example, while supposedly awesome on a sandwich, would likely suck in a beer, right?  Pork chops and applesauce would be worse. Pork Chop and Applesauce Porter!  I have to go vomit. I'll be right back.

But what about cherries and chocolate.


O'Fallon Brewery in Missouri has managed to do it.

Forget it with dinner.  Forget it before dinner. The Cherry Chocolate Beer (#958) should only be had after dinner.  With dessert? That would be even better. For me, it was a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream with added fruits.  Damn good.  

The beer itself was a bit odd to the eye.  I did not read the labels very closely. I was envisioning something dark like a porter or stout but this is a dark wheat. I had never heard of such a thing. Who cares, though, right?  On the nose, chocolate and cherries cut right through. Forget hops or malt tones. There were none to be had.  On the tongue? More chocolate. In this case, it seemed to overpower the cherry. They were there, but not in the same balance as the  aroma. I think the carbonation was bit high - a bit of lip stinging was there at first. As the glass sat for a few minutes longer, this tapered off.  The finish was all about chocolate (still!) and a slight dose of hops.  All in all, it was a pretty weird beer.  I have to give it a 4 out of 5.  I have had other beers where they try to create these combos and they fail. Completely.  Not this one. Give it a go. Basically, you are drinking chocolate covered cherries.

I found out later that part of the chocolate tones result from the addition of chocolate. Not chocolate malt. Actual chunks of chocolate. I had been told many moons ago by a wise man not to eat chocolate.  Okay, it was a doctor running a blood assay suggesting I shouldn't eat it if it bothers me.  That is fancy talk for saying my blood chemistry says I'm allergic to chocolate.   I don't eat Snickers or Hershey''s or chocolate cakes anymore.  But, for whatever reason, this fine brew did not seem to bother me.  Ahhhh, allergies. 

It should also be noted that my 1,000th beer will be coming up!  1,000!!! Holy crap!  As you might expect, I am working out something of a plan for a such a milestone beer.  It won't be out of this world.  In fact, it will be low key but fun, I'm sure. 

Here is what we know -
- It will be at the Fort Street Brewery
- Doug will let me tap the cask
- It will be a Thursday night (he has a new cask every Thursday)
- Tapping will be around 8:00 or so
- My buddy Neal will be flying in from Texas.  After we close the brewery, he is prepared to pay for a three-day weekend riot in Las Vegas to all in attendance. He is so generous! Be sure not to embarrass him by insulting the flight attendants on our private jet!

I'll post more when I have a better idea of when this will happen.  It is a bit hard to predict the night.  We'll know more before too long......

Friday, March 4, 2011


Cold winter days can certainly suck. For that matter, cold winter nights can suck even worse.  Sure, we have the luxury of staying inside with a furnace and a nice porter  for the winter blahs (I strongly suggest the County Cork's Irish Stout (#948) from Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in Ann Arbor).  But wildlife can't say that.

They have no furnace. They have no super-creamy stouts from a super brewery.   The plan is to simply find warmth where they can and how they can.  Food is key.  If they eat , they stoke the internal furnace so they can find more they can stay warm long enough to find food.... and so on.....

For birds, many beat it on down the road.  Thousands of miles, actually. Central America. Maybe even South America.  "What is there, you ask?" Food!  "But why can't they stay here and eat?". The food they want is there and they are prepared to deal with all the trouble of getting to it.  For an insect-eating bird in, say, Canada, finding spiders and other crawlies in the dead of winter simply won't happen. No food means no heat.  No heat means death.  The tropics have bugs. Lots of 'em. 

But, some species aren't game such an outrageous adventure.  Flying thousands of miles to distant corners of the globe complicated by exhaustion,weather and who knows what else it simply won't do. The plan?

Stay here.

With a furnace and a porter? No, we do that.

Related to the American Robin, this Hermit Thrush has an interesting twist to the migration/food issue. Unlike its cousins who head off to the tropics, this thrush stays in North America.  Down south, they are not so crazy-rare. For that matter, they are not crazy-rare here in southeast Michigan, either, but you won't see dozens of them.  One here. One there.  That is more or less it. Check this Christmas Bird Count range map and you will see what I mean. 

But what about food thing? They manages the awful temps by finding a new source of fuel.   During the summer months, bugs and such are it, right? Winter time?  Berries.  Sure, if a bug or spider is blundered upon during the search for fruits, down the hatch it goes! But, for the most part, fruits are key.

So, for months now, this fellow has been seen roaming around the Museum yard.   Birders all winter long were finding it.  On cold days, he would be tugging at berries on various shrubs and vines (even Poison Ivy, believe it or not - it doesn't bother them). The warmer days of these last few weeks have seen him picking through leaf litter.

Come nightfall and the loss of the warming effects of the sun (what little there might be, it all adds up), his whereabouts were unknown.  There are no reports from any of the regional beerbars or breweries, so I suspect he simply hid in deep cover. At sunrise, the whole story ran again.  

Scrounge and rummage for food in the deep cold of winter?  Sounds like a drag to me. 

I'll stick with that porter.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Toe Jam

As I mentioned earlier, I am looking to take my photography a tad more seriously this year.  After watching a sumac for days and enjoying all the little visitors that would come to stuff their faces with teeny-weeny fruits, I thought I would see what I could manage with my rig. 

I found this little Black-capped Chickadee to be amazingly cooperative.  

After I stood patiently for a few moments next to the empty bush, he/she flew in and commenced chowin'.  At times, he would place the little fruit between his toes and break it open with that tiny little bill.  I suspect he was enjoying the squishy part and the tiny seed, too. 

Most people think of "toe jams" as those annoying, little wads of crud that get stuck between your toes.  I might argue that this little fella is making a new kind of toe jam


Am I the only one who thinks this thing is completely stupid?

What is it, you ask?

Okay, the whole thing is a bit over the top, but at its core level, it is pretty simple.  Basically, it is a tent for camping. The idea is to have clear walls so you can enjoy the outdoors while you are "indoors."

I have to wager that this designer has never been camping. Ever. If he had been, he would know that any tent in the direct sun becomes a greenhouse. I mean hot.  Flesh-melting hot.  Turn  metal to goo hot.

Just ask these campers

Golly. What fun.  Maybe I should buy one right away.....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Camera Ready

Now is the time of year when I have to seriously consider having my camera with me at all times.  Okay, not doing the dishes or showering, but when I'm going to work or simply tootin' around doing some birding. 

Today, as if to prove the point, I snagged a picture of this guy over the park.

For those of you who are not sure, this is  a Bald Eagle.  "There is no white head or white tail!" you might say. You are correct.  But trust me - a Bald Eagle it is. In fact, it was born in the spring of 2010. The brownish belly tells us so.  Lots of white on the underwings, too.

But, the bird is not what caught my eye. It was what it was doing. 

Movin' on.

With slow, lazy circles, this bird was making its way north.  The circles were right over the parking lot. Catchin' thermals, for sure.  I have seen a few birds in migration in southeast Michigan (okay, hundreds of thousands) and this bird struck me as being a migrant.  It could have been one of the dozens of eagles that spent the winter along the shores of western Lake Erie. Or not. Hell, I don't know.

"Where is it going?" you might ask.  I have no idea.  "North" would be my best guess.  Maybe the Upper Peninsula or Ontario?  Really. No clue.  Are more migrants coming?   Oh goodness, yes!  Not just raptors either.  Waders, shorebirds, songbirds, ducks.  In the coming months, hundreds of species will be moving through the region.  

I can't wait. 

Camera ready.