Thursday, April 28, 2011


Technology is cool.

I got a text message today:

  Ross Goose by wave pool - field south of pool complex.

I like messages like that. Short. To the point.  (Totally unlike this blog!)

Oh, by the way, the Ross's Goose is quite possibly one of the rarest waterfowl to be had in the state of Michigan.

Before too long, I was looking at it.

NO NO NO, the photo is not mine, but it does show the bird I saw today. 

The right-most bird is the bird species in question. As you can see, it looks ALOT like the others.  White. Black wingtips.  Pink bill. Yeah, great.

But look at the shape of the head. Look at the thickness of the neck.  Notice how the bill is stubby and more triangular. Those are just some of the traits that make that bird a Ross's Goose and make it a new bird for my Lake Erie Metropark list - #248!

For the record, the photo above was taken from an excellent article that was posted at  I would request that you all read it. Everybody should know how to separate a Ross's Goose from a Snow Goose. In fact, I would suggest that you read it tomorrow morning.  I understand that there are some people getting married tomorrow? Who cares.  Really.  

Geese.  Learn 'em. Love 'em.  (They do taste good, too.....)

I will see what I can do about securing photos of the park bird in the next few days.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Adios To Winter?

This weather is getting really old.  First, winter had a hard time saying "Adios!" Now, we have been our share of colder days with clouds. While Saturday was nice, Sunday was back to the clouds and gray routine. I have had enough.

So, even though Sunday started with more light drizzle and clouds, I absolutely refused to stay home again.  I needed to turn it into a birding day. Sure, the lighting sucked, but I carried my camera with me for part of the day, too.

My walk took me to the north end of the park at first.  Since January, folks have been marveling at the pair of Great Horned Owls that had taken up residence in a cavity.  I admit, I was not motivated to walk out there on any sort of a regular basis.  Knowing the amount of traffic up there, I figured I would just give them their space.

But, when I got word that the youngsters have "branched out" and left the nest, I was fired up for a photo shoot if I could get one. Unfortunately, the placement of the youngsters prevented any sort of an unobstructed view.  The above photo is basically all I could get.  

As you can see, the young are well along. Given that Great Horned Owls lay eggs by the end of January and hatch 'em out by the end of February, they certainly have a head start compared to other birds in the region!

The highlight of the trail, and quite frankly the day, was the singing male Purple Finch.  Not to be confused with the similar House Finch, the Purps simply look better and sound better if you ask me.  I think I am just a tad south to see these birds with any regularity and you have to be in the right place at the right time to see them in migration. I was. 

Other goodies along the trail included a Brown Thrasher and a swarm of Black-crowned Night Herons

The lake shore continued to show me some more signs of spring, thought I certainly remain skeptical at this point.  The Forster's Terns were nice to see so close! Note, by the way, the name. "Forster" not "Forester".  If I had a dime for every time I heard the wrong name, I would be quite rich by now!

The lakeshore also showed me, by far, the single greatest concentrations I have ever seen of Red-breasted Mergansers. Damn, are they a good looking bird! Plus, with spring in the air (supposedly), their hormones were raging! Check out this video and you can see how they manage.  Look at the birds who are straightening their neck and then throwing their breast down into the water. Yep, duck dating.  I would probably hurt myself doing that....

The lakeshore also had no less than 8 Common Loons.  I don't think I have ever see so many off the park shoreline.  Neat. 

All told, I tallied an anemic 55 species for the day.  I was hoping to get at least 65, but so be it.  Any time I can get out and bird is a good day. Plus, after being cooped up all winter with snow and cold, I was happy to get out!

That said, as I write this, I am enjoying my 982nd beer.  In an attempt to clean out my fridge of "winter" beers in my preparations for the "spring and summer" beers, I figured I had better knock down the Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout from Leinenkugals.  In a word?  Excellent!  5 out of 5. Thick, rich, sweet and malty, this a must.  I would never drink  it on the 4th of July, but a cold winter would be ideal. 

For the "spring" day during the winter that won't leave, it will certainly do!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Damned Proud

A short time ago, I was having a conversation with my buddy Bruce in Louisiana. I don't exactly recall how the conversation went, but I remember telling him "Basically, no, I don't watch reality TV cuz I live in reality...."

While the thought of watching Jersey Shore or other boob-tube drool is enough to make me want to stab myself, I guess I have to double back on what I said to him. Yes,I watch reality TV.

Jamie Oliver has a very interesting show, Food Revolution.  Basically, he is trying to get people to stop eating themselves to death.  Bad food is killing us, says he. I find it interesting that he does not seem to mention serving sizes but he really gets you thinking about what we shovel in our bodies.  

As a fan of his app, I decided to give another one his breakfast recipes a go: Feta and Lemon Pancakes with a fruit salad topping.

Fortunately, by the time I finished this recipe, there was NO suggestion of severed fingers in the fruit.  Without giving too much away, the feta cheese is in the pancake batter with lemon zest. My new mortar and pestle crushed up the fennel pretty nicely.  After cooking it up in the old pan, the topping was nothing more than freshly roasted pistachios with strawberries, figs, peaches, nectarines, and some mint. Damned good food. 

On the same note, I love pizza.  I am starting to get away from pepperoni and cheese. I need something more exotic. While Mr. Oliver has a recipe for homemade pizza dough, I'm not there yet. Too much grief when I can just buy a Boboli crust.  So a friend and I put our thinkin' caps on and came up with the following:

The near side is portobello mushrooms with basil and mozzarella cheese.  The far side?  I'm sure you can see the brocholli, but we also threw on some spinach (yes,I eat spinach now....)  and oregano with a funky cheese blend including asiago.  A tweak of garlic wasn't so bad either.  Damned good food.  

So, yeah, Bruce, I guess I do watch reality TV. If that inspires me to good the food I have been making as of late, I damned proud of it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Black And White Beauty : # 641

When Brad calls, I get excited.

No, he is not a drug dealer or anything foul. He is a birding buddy of mine who likes to make sure locals know about hot birds in the area. 

My phone rang Saturday morning with news before the word went world-wide on the Internet.

White Wagtail. Pointe Mouilee State Game Area. 

Oh my....

Lemme see.... I did the Alaska thing.  Twice.  Never got it.  That is basically the most reliable place on the continent for this Old World bird and now one is 20 minutes from my house? 

Check this range map. The yellow indicates where it breeds while the blue is the wintering range.  Green would be the locations where it could be found in migration. Notice that Michigan is gray! For that matter, so is most of the Western Hemisphere!

After realizing I could not get out there until after work, I took a few seconds and made two calls to two birding buddies.  

Don, despite a bum knee, was up to it despite a three mile  walk to the spot.  He was soon on his way.

Natalie, my co-worker and up-and-coming birder extraordinaire, was up for it too, but she could not get there until later in the afternoon. That worked fine for me!  We could do the trudge together.

Throughout the day, I received text messages and calls from Don and Brad with nothing but good news.  Not only did they see the bird, but dozens of obsessive/compulsives, er....I mean birders were on site and enjoying this mega-rarity.  The bird's known haunts, a mud flat at Cell 3 and a mowed field in the Vermet Unit a half mile away, were nailed down.  It would disappear for minutes at a time, but was bound to show up in one of the two locations.  

The plan with Natalie was simple. Meet me with with take-out food (six total miles on an empty stomach is no good), hoof it out there while wolfing down the chow, secure the bird,  and go home before the sun sets.

Part One was easy.  Most of my dinner was down the hatch before we got the parking lot!

Part Two? Well, three miles is a long walk, but I have long legs.  As a 6-footer, I can cover ground pretty quickly.  Natalie? Well, she would be a giant in the company of  Hobbits, but barely.  Not 5 feet tall, her stride length just does not compare to mine.

That did not stop her.  While carrying her spotting scope and mine, we took off.  Never once did she complain. Not once. Never once did we stop. Three straight miles.  Granted, Gunnery Sgt Hartman would have been disappointed, but we did damn good.  Not one hour later, we were on site.

(Of course, the whole time I'm thinking to myself "We had damn well better see this bird or she is going to plant that scope tripod somewhere really uncomfortable....")

As we reached the Cell 3 site, I was wondering why the observers were not looking off into the mud flats.  They were all looking the wrong way.....

(That tripod is really gonna hurt.  I know it is.....)

"It was last seen flying that way....." as they said pointing off into oblivion.

(Oh my, this is really going to hurt.)

But the word was out - patience.  Basically, we were told by others who had been there all day to stay put. It will  show up again.  Be ready.

Within minutes, Adam Byrne, who found the bird originally that morning, re-located it back at the Vermet location.  A half mile away? We took off.  Running? Oh, hell no. Jogging? You bet. With just a few hundred yards to go, I noticed something odd.  Everybody was looking the wrong way....again. Absolutely refusing to finish the final stretch, I pulled my cellphone and called a buddy, Caleb,  who was right there in crowd.  

Using hand-signals akin to wigwagging, Caleb made it clear what the bird had done.  After they saw it on the mowed field, it apparently took off in the direction of Cell 3. The pattern was clear.  It likes both spots.

Realizing the complete stupidy of the Keystone Cop birding style (chasing the bird all over while it makes us all look dumb), I made a simple suggestion - "Caleb - stay there.  If it shows up, call me. If it comes to Cell 3, I'll call you."  Done. Natalie and I trudged back to the mud flat. Another half mile.

Upon our arrival, Joe (?), a birder from Ohio, had nothing good to say.  He had not seen it in the few minutes since Caleb and company watched it fly off in the the blue yonder.

("How many ways can a person be killed by a tripod?", I asked myself.)

"I got it." Joe said.

Within a few seconds, we enjoyed the White Wagtail from about 100 yards. Jerry Jourdan, a photographer on site earlier in the day, let me post this photo. Be sure to check the link for the video, too. Cool stuff.

Interestingly enough, as far as I know, the fine black line that runs through the eye is key. That marks this as a bird from the eastern part of its range. It would be possible for this little fellow to be from England, but the field marks don't add up.   England to Michigan is quite far, but this bird is basically from Siberia. Siberia to Michigan?  For a bird that is only seven inches long? My goodness....

So, we watched the bird for a few minutes.  Before long, it took off again to parts unknown. We assumed it was headed back the Vermet Unit which was right on the way during our three mile return to the car.  We didn't see, but who cares.  With the target bird accounted for, the pace was soooooo much nicer.  In fact, even slow. By the time we got back to the car, a mere three hours had passed since we first set out.

So where does this put me? My life list now stands at 641 species while my Michigan list is now 346 species.  I have also recorded 171 species for Pointe Mouillee State Game Area. Natalie, by the way, despite a trip to India a few years ago, did not see them there.  This was her 301st North American bird.

If the cards fall in the right places, I could see 650 species by the end of year.

We'll see what happens.....

I See You.....Part 2

Here it is again.  I added an arrow so you can hopefully see it this time.

There it is - the American Woodcock.  Slayer of worms and master of camouflage.  

Slightly smaller than a softball, the "Timberdoodle", as it is sometimes called, is out and about right now.  No, you don't find them during the winter months. By late March, they arrive in the region (they winter in the deep South) for courtship and egg-laying.

Their call is quite possibly one of the most beautiful and musical of any bird. Forget everything you have ever heard or seen on the Discovery Channel. This bird has character and gusto. The coolest thing about it is this - anybody can do the call.

Here goes. Pinch you nose. (Pinch it, don't pick it. Pinch it.) Say "peent".  There.  You did it.  Cool, huh? You can hear it here, too.  

Once the grounds get wet and gooey in the late winter and early spring, their pencil-like bill can do its job. After sticking it straight into the ground, hyper-sensitive nerves give them the bearings they need to nail worms.  If they are on the mark, "boom". Done. If they missed, they can figure a new bearing, re-tool, and bag it.   This particular bird, before he settled in, was actively feeding. Cool stuff to watch. Of course it sucks if you're the worm!

For the most part, people don't find them at all. As you can see from my photos, many people would simply walk right past them.  The browns, tans and black that make up their colors are absolutely perfect when they sit on the long, dead grasses of late winter/early spring. Plus, their "I'm a statue so you won't see me..." attitude can't be beat.  While I had a big lens, this bird was not 15 feet away. Probably less, really.

So, how did I see it?  

I'm good.

Not really.

Some days back, my co-worker Natalie came into the building with a smile that wrapped around her head.  "There is a Woodcock at the office!"  Apparently, the bird was feeding on the edge of the long, brown grasses and the short, dead grasses (the stuff that gets chopped by mowers during the summer months).  After giving me perfect directions, I found the bird later in the day.  After work, I went home and got my rig and came back. It was feeding actively before hunkering down shortly after my arrival.

After such a long winter, it was nice to see the bird that is so often not seen...

I See You.... Part 1

Somewhere in this photo is a fantastic looking creature with giant, "buggy" eyes that hypnotize onlookers. Its piercing beak stabs at the spineless while it colors make it disappear right before you.  Can you see it? If you have not already done so, click on the image to get a bigger view.....

I will post Part 2 of this entry shortly....

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fruity Ricotta Pancakes with Maple Syrup Minus The Fingertips

I've said it before - Jamie Oliver has fun recipes. 

With my parents going through serious home renovations (they are getting their dream kitchen), I thought I would have them over for some meals while they are without their place.  

Keep in mind, too, that drinking beer with breakfast is generally frowned upon, right? Beer with dinner? Now we're talkin'!  Have you ever heard of having breakfast for dinner?  I certainly have.  So it was with fun in mind that I planned a super dinner for friends and family - Fruity Ricotta Pancakes with Maple Syrup and Raspberry Beer. The pancakes are a Jamie Oliver recipe from my iPhone.

Three yummy fruits go into the batter - raspberries, blueberries and mango.  With eggs yolks whipped and gobs of cheese added, the pancakes are really quite good.  A blop of plain yogurt and some real maple syrup (not the fake crap) make for a solid meal - breakfast or dinner.

Oh wait, the fingertip thing.  Oh my, mangos. If you are not familiar with mangos, they are about the size of a softball with a large stony pit.  Unknown to me at the time, you don't actually cut the mango in half.  Basically, you whack off 4 sides (yes, it is round, but you follow me, I'm sure).  

Well, for some reason, despite previous experience with this thing, I opted to cut in half.  After all, I managed it the first time I did this recipe.  With the mango on the cutting board, I commenced cutting.  It was not too different from cutting through a bowling ball once I reached the pit.  With hands secured to the knife handle and the blade top (with fingers curled well out of the way), I started pushing down evenly with both hands. Really pushing down.  


Really hard.

To my horror, I realized that, in my efforts to cut a rock in half, all four of my fingers on my left hand had curled around the knife blade and where parked conveniently between the razor sharp edge and the cutting board.... 

Holy shit.

If that blade had gone through the pit, four tips would have flyin'. 

For a moment, I just froze when I realized what I had done. It was that same feeling you get when you use a hairdryer in the bathtub, play with loaded weapons, or juggle chainsaws - that pit in your stomach with the cold sweats to boot.

I challenge you to Google "fingertip cuts" if you have the stomach for it. I did.  Yikes.

It would have been horrible. All nose-picking would have to be done with my right hand.  My guitar and drum world tour starts in a few weeks with a concert in the parking lot at the gas station up the road.  What would I have done? Typing my blog for the six people that read it would have been more difficult for sure. Oh, the horror of it all...

Oh but, it would not have been just my fingers in the batter. My mom's too! No, her fingers where not next to mine under the knife. No, she was in the kitchen when I was using the mixer to whip up the egg yolks.  "Standing peaks" according to the recipe.  "Watch the little bubbles..." Mom said as she pointed into the goo, with her fingertips a micro-fraction of an inch away from the whirling blades....

Kitchen klutziness.  Genetic?  Maybe...

The beer, by the way, was the Raspberry Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company in Marshall, Michigan. All in all, a very average fruit beer.  As a stand-alone drink, it would not have been very good,I must admit. The raspberry tones, while present, seemed a bit weird.  The balance seemed a bit off.   However, with Fruity Ricotta Pancakes with Maple Syrup sans fingertips, it went over quite well.  

Get the app and give it a go.

And don't cut yourself.