Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Mathew Brady" 2011

Mathew Brady is a name that every American should know.  I would argue that everyone of reasonable age has seen his work somewhere.  Be it textbook, news broadcast, Internet or poster, the work of Brady and his crew can't be overlooked.  
For all intents and purposes, he is the father of photojournalism.  Any photographer who has ever been to any war zone is following in his steps.  While his crew of photographers actually took many of the images we think of as "Brady's", he set the machine in motion.  If a conflict occurred, somewhere, a man (or later on, a woman) with a camera would be there to capture it. 

This past Monday was Memorial Day.  It can, of course, be different things for different people. Some take it as a chance to be stupid, or perhaps get drunk and be stupid.  Others grill (safely), hang with friends, and relax.  

Others yet, do their part for the fallen.  I know a fellow who will make sure that the grave markers of veterans at a small local cemetary will have an American flag.  As a Vietnam vet, he simply wants to do his part.

For me, I chose to attend the Civil War Remembrance at The Henry Ford.  Hundreds of reenactors from across the country were here for this event. Tent after tent lined the grounds.  Civilians, Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers, sutlers, and the like were present.  Scheduled events and impromptu efforts were ongoing.

While my name is certainly not Mathew Brady, I decided to head on over and play the part of "photo journalist".  I was not using a giant, cube-shaped camera on a rickety, old wood tripod like Brady did.  I certainly did not travel there in an old beat-up wagon carrying glass plates and likely gallons of noxious chemicals.

No, I just used my Canon Rebel with my 100-400mm lens. While Brady and his crew were known to have moved dead bodies in the name of better journalism, I did not pose anybody except for the drummer.  

As for the colorized image, yeah, well, hey, Brady might have done it, too, if he had Photoshop.

1,000th Beer Down The Hatch

Ahhh, milestones!

This past Thursday was a biggie in my relatively insignificant beer world.  Number 1,000!  One-zero-zero-zero.  "M" if your a Roman.  "1111101000" if you speak with computers.  

Fort  Street Brewery, home of the nuclear-powered brewmaster, Doug, was the site of this very-not-historic, but somewhat signifcant event.  It was also a fine opportunity to see friends I had not seen in a while.  Beer and good company.  Can it get better?

For the record, this is the only photograph to date on this blog showing me.  For a few years now, I have been posting here and NEVER have I shown my ugly mug.  But, for such an occasion, I decided to violate my own rule and have a picture of me actually doing something. 

Mango Tango was nothing more than Doug's Piston Pale Ale in a cask stuffed with about 2 pounds of mango.  I think the key ingredient was the Ale.  I have to admit, the mango tones were very subdued.  I think a bit more mango could have been added, but what was present did not distract from the beer at all.  A solid 3 out of 5 on my scale.

An event like this give me a chance to go back over my spreadsheet and crunch some numbers! In no particular order....

* My first official critiqued beer was November 19th, 2003.  Don't read too much into that. There is a loooooong story here. I was actually enjoying beer before that.  Buy me a beer and I'll tell you about it.
* Of the 1,000 beers to date, I have had samples from 272 different brewing operations (be they breweries, brewpubs, or home brewers (just a few)) including 57 IPAs, 132 Lagers, 88 Pale Ales, 51 Stouts, 45 Porters, 30 Pilsners, 286 "Ales", and 47 Brown Ales. The rest is simply of mixture of the sort of stuff your average Bud Lite swiller just doesn't get.

* I can promise you the list is not accurate. It is higher. Over 9 years of work, I can be certain, somewhere in the mix of it all, I have enjoyed beers that were not added to the spreadsheet.   Notes get lost.  Files get botched.  1,000 is the official number, but certainly a tad low. (You might think of it as home runs in baseball - you crank 'em over the fence all day long if you want, but if you don't do it in a game, it doesn't count)

* Top five breweries by beer consumption are Fort Street Brewery (60), Boston Beer Company (27), Maumee Bay Brewing Company (22), New Holland Brewing Company (18), Short's Brewing Company (18)

* I have had beers from 30 of the 50 states. Those states are shown below in red.  (Sorry, no mappage for foreign countries.)

So where do I go from here?  Onward and upward! Basically, with 1,000 beers in 9 years (but with 500 of them since August of 2008), there is no telling when I will eclipse 1,500 or even 2,000.  There is just no tellin'.

That said, stay tuned here if you really care......

Monday, May 23, 2011

1 out of 65

So, yesterday I took a page out of my buddy's book.

Josh, a buddy of mine who is a photographer and birder, had told me in the past about watching birds as it relates to photography.   Watch 'em. See what they do. Where do they land? Where they like to fly?  Do they have patterns?   

Yesterday, after a casual start to my morning (sleeping in followed by Feta and lemon pancakes with a fruit salad topping), I opted to head up to Elizabeth Park in Trenton.

A busy Sunday morning, a ton of people were fishing, walking, running, and dealing with dog doo.  This Wayne County park is basically a giant loop. In my younger days, I would head up here with buddies as it was quite the place for muscle cars and the like. Good times, indeed. (Any suggestion that I was sporting a mullet at the time are exaggerated.  So says me...)
What was I doing here now?  I set myself up along the breakwall at the marina with hopes. No fishing for me. With my rig in my hand, a hat on my head, and no sunscreen on my sandled feet (a decision I would later regret), I stood and waited.

The Common Tern, sadly, is not so common anymore.   Once thought have about 6,000 nests in Michigan, the bird is now a "Threatened Species" according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  It's the same ole stuff - habitat loss. That, in turn, contributes to other problems including predation by gulls (who benefit from the changing landscape).

For whatever reason, beginning just a few years ago, the terns decided that they like the concrete pier under the Grosse Ile "Free Bridge".   (For the record, they also nest under the Grosse Ile Pay Bridge up the river....free of charge.)  Under the watchful eye of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, this pier has been modified to better suit the terns. Better substrates, weed barriers, criss-crossing wires to minimize the impact of flying predators, and secret Federal laser beams have been placed to give these desperate birds an boost.  While it is not a flourishing colony, it exists. Barely. But barely is better than not at all.

From a photography standpoint, knowing the colony is only 250 yards from the Park Marina, I can wait them out and let them come tootin' by. They do.

I took 65 pictures in almost 2 hours.  That does not sound like much, I know. But remember , I had to let them come to me.  Once I realized my lighting absolutely sucked for the most part (it was late morning with harsh angles and shadows), I had to wait for a bird to do something to accommodate me. One finally did.

Almost 2 hours with dozens of pictures and only ONE that is slightly better than "okay".

I find this picture somewhat deceiving.  While the bird appears large in this photo, they are not large all.  Their body is only a few inches longer than a Robin but with a wingspan that is twice as long.  With no effort at all, you could stuff one in a Pringles can.  

I need to get back there in the evening in the coming days.  The light will be to my back and I might be able to come away with something more.

First Step

Wood Ducks, those snazzy looking ducks with techni-color faces, were almost lost as a result of habitat destruction, liberal hunting laws, and market hunting.  As a not-so-smart cavity nester, it was discovered that they will nest in a box tacked to the side of a tree just as much as they may nest in a hole in the treetrunk.  With that knowledge, wood duck boxes are a frequent site in marshes, swamps, and rivers just about everywhere.  If you have boxes, Wood Ducks shouldn't be too far off.

So, as you might expect, Wood Ducks should be found in wood duck boxes, right?

Well, not always....

Following up on Don's report from weeks ago, I always check this particular box when I drive past it.  

His original report was basically  like this " Hey. Check the box at "so-and-so". I had a Screech Owl sunning itself in there." (I'm not telling you the location as I don't want the little fella being bothered too much...)

So yesterday, after some very casual local birding and photography, I checked what will always be known as "Don's Box" for the umpteenth time.  This time, however, I had the bird! It is a nestling!  

So, after I confirmed the little guy/gal was in the hole, I pulled over and got my scope out to get a better view. Hidden by the vegetation, I watched the bird as it learned its new surroundings.  With those wide, yellow eyes, it was looking everywhere.  It looked up.  Down.  Left.  Down. Right.  Down.  Back and forth. Down.  Down again. Up.  At me.   Down.  The focus of its world was clearly not what lay "out there", but what lay below....

As a cavity nester like a Wood Duck, Screech Owls can apparently take to a fake hole just as much as a real one. But now it gets interesting.  When the ducklings are ready for the big cruel world, they simply jump out and swim away.  

Generally speaking, owls don't swim (while they can float and flop, I would not call them swimming birds at all).  Before you start calling the parents "stupid", keep in mind this canal was frozen when mom laid the eggs (early to mid-March) so this situation probably did not seem so precarious two months ago.  

Now? Well, there is no telling what will happen.  3-5 eggs are usually laid, so assuming this nest is normal, there could be 2-4 siblings out there. But where? Without checking the box, there is no way to tell if this is the oldest sibling (with the others still in there) or if this is the last sibling (all the others already left). If it is the latter, did the other siblings flop and swim to shore or did they manage to fly to the shoreline a few yards away?  Or, for all we know, the others did flop and swim and made a Snapping Turtle reeeeealllly happy.  

I would like to think the little guy is going to make it to shore. From there, it will be still be fed by mom and dad for a few more days, or more likely, weeks.  After that, they will get tired of it and it will have to start fending for himself.  Songbirds, bats, mice, and shrews are just some of the prey items on the long list of foods.   

If it is a boy, it will likely disperse and look for a territory by the next breeding season (next year).  It will likely find a mate as Eastern Screech Owls are far more common than most people realize.  For the most part, he will be a faithful little guy to the same female year after year.  But he may take a page out of the Arnold Schwarzenegger playbook and have a mistress on the side.  It is rare, but it happens.  

All the while, as a small  predator, he needs to be on the lookout for just about anything bigger.  Great Horned Owls, Long-eared Owls, Mink, and Skunk are just a thing that call Screech Owls "delicious".  Don't rule out house cats or cars bumpers, either.

Ultimately,  we can't be sure what will happen. All of that is waaaay down the road.  One step at a time, right?

He had better watch out. That first one could be a doozy..

Saturday, May 21, 2011


From the ABC News website tonight:

Robert Fitzpatrick, a 60-year-old retiree from New York, spent his $140,000 life savings to have 3,000 posters put up in New York City's subway and bus system, warning of this impending End of Days. 

In turns out Mr. Harold Camping's prediction of the world's end at 6:00pm EST did not come true.  It is now 8:58pm EST and here we are...as I knew it would be.  As did all rational people.  

In the meantime, I realize that Robert Fitzpatrick, by his own free will,  dumped a ton of money on something preposterously stupid.  $140,000?  

How many lives could that have been touched by that?  Some kid out there probably would have liked breakfast before school or a coat in the winter months.  The Susan G. Komen walk was today; they would have taken it, I'm sure. How about a tiny non-profit where even $25,000 would last for years? 

So, here we are - a fraud in our midst, blind followers who spend obscene amounts of money on supporting said fraud, and the law just turns away.  Ahhhh, life in America.

Mango Tango Gets The Call

Last night, I shot up to the Fort Street Brewery to enjoy a new beer (the Red, Wheat, and Blue was my 997th beer).  Anyhow, I had a quick chat with Doug about Thursday's beer.  Officially called Mango Tango, he basically dumped about 2 pounds of mangos into a cask with 10 gallons of his Piston Pale Ale.  

I like mangos.  Salsas with mango can be quite good. I have that great Jamie Oliver recipe, too.  (Of course, the last time I worked with a mango, I almost cut all my fingers off.  But that is besides the point. ) 

As Doug said, he is hoping the mango adds "just a kiss" of fruit to the ale.  I'm looking forward to it.  

The beer, that is. Not kissing Doug......

I Give Up But I Don't Care

I've been birding since 1992.  It is a long story, but it is fair to say I have been doin' this for almost 20 years!

Even after 20 years, I still find myself now and then saying "huh?"

Take this picture I snagged in Washtenaw County the other day:

 When I took the picture (the bird was feet away), I was prepared to call it a female American Redstart and leave it at that.  It has all the marks, right?  Hmmm - a small, grayish olive bird with yellow/orange spots on the the tail, wings, and flanks.  That is easy. After all, it matches all the pictures in the books.  Plus, the behavior was a match.  In what seems to be a hyper-active state, they are constantly flicking open their tails and wings (sort of like those clowns in a gym flexing muscles when no one is really watching so they can feel good about themselves).

So, I pulled my  Peterson Field Guide to Warblers to learn more. Where does it breed?   Much of the eastern United States and a large chunk of Canada.  What habitat does it like?  Deciduous woods or mixed deciduous-coniferous woods near water. They are cool with second growth woodlands, too, so they don't suffer as much from deforestation as other birds might.


Wait a minute.

Did I say that was a female?

Its a boy. Now you might be thinkin' that it can't be a male because the males are a stunning black, white and orange.  Well, that is true. They are black, white and orange when they are "all grown up."  But what about a younger male?

Wanna know what a first spring male looks like? Look at the picture!   Apparently, the males, in their first spring, look very much like females.  Look at the face especially.  See how there is no "paleness" before the eyeball?  On a female, this area (called the lores) would be pale. On this bird, it looks a bit dark, almost black. Dark, not light, is completely consistent with a male.

Bingo. First spring male American Redstart!


On a whim, I contacted a good friend of mine.  She bands birds (for a living!) and knows quite a bit about this stuff.  A large part of her work day during the banding season involves looking into peculiar details about a bird's body - the shape of a specific feather or the how much suturing has occurred between skull bones.  One of her main sources for her banding studies involves a tremendous amount of work by a guy named Pyle (not this one).

It turns out Pyle's book does not say a thing about the color of the lores.  Not a peep.  Light. Dark. Who cares.  You can't tell if it is a boy or a girl if it is in this plumage. 

Well, okay, you can.  If I shot it with a gun instead of a camera, we could look at "the parts" to see if it is a male or female.  Maybe in the future, x-ray camera equipment will be available in the field (bad news, I'm sure, for attractive woman living next to creeps).  But, I think you get my point - according to Pyle, this bird can not be sexxed.  Boy? Girl? No way to tell from the photo.

(Keep in mind, there are clues that would help me if they were available.  If I had seen it singing in the field, we could have called it a male.  If it was sitting in a nest keeping the eggs warm, it would be a female. )

So where does that put me now? After all, one reputable source (the field guide) says "male" while another source (Pyle's work that is used by banders all across the country) says "not sure".

Honestly, I don't care anymore.  I'll let the fancy bird people figure that one out...if they can.  At this point, I'm just happy I saw it.  Have I seen 'em before. Yup.  Do I look forward to seeing on again?  Yup.

That is good enough for me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Arctic Bird On An Arctic Day

Mid-May in the Midwest!

Sunny skies.  Temps in the 70s.  Flowers flowering.  Trees leafing out.  Birds being birds as they hustle their way north on gentle and warm south winds.

Not today...

The calendar says "May 16". I say "ugh".

By the time my birding buddy, Natalie, and I arrived in northwest Ohio, temps were in the low 40's.  Winds were coming from the north at speeds easily exceeding 25mph.  White caps were fierce on Lake Erie and trees were swaying.  Multiple layers, stocking caps and gloves were needed on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk (or Crane Creek or whatever they call it anymore...).

With not 30 cars in the lot (a nice day would have yielded five times as many!), the boardwalk was not particularly full.  Hockey gear is sometimes needed to plow your way through the crowds, but this morning, the slippery boardwalk was probably the biggest thing to think about.  

Once the trail entered the deeper part of the skimpy woods about a hundred feet down the way, things really started to jump.  Binoculars are usually needed for real birding as the birds can be 50 feet away  or 25 feet up making identification a bit more challenging.  (Put a soup can in front yard and read it from your porch. I think you will get the idea real quick.)

But this morning, the birds were not dozens of feet away or overhead. We could measure this morning in inches.  At times, birds were within an arm's length. That, folks, is not an exaggeration  In some cases,  I was stepping back from the bird as I could not focus that close!  

Finally, in a bow to the circumstances, I stopped using my bins.  With the chill setting into my fingers, I let my bins hang on my neck, shoved my hands in my pockets, and walked slowly.

20 warbler species were recorded in no time.  There was nothing especially rare, but that is not what was on my mind. I was seeing birds , like this Canada Warbler, from 4 feet away singing his little heart out.  I was seeing the individual feathers and the scales on the legs. 

At one point, one fellow commented to me "Isn't this great?" as his grin wrapped around his head.


I have much to learn about birds but I have been studying them long enough to know trouble when I see it.  These birds while managing, were not all well.

With temps only 10 degrees off of freezing, they were struggling.  Tiny bodies loose heat faster than large ones.  Heat comes from food and they were not finding as much as they might have hoped for.  The winds and temps were making food gleaning much more challenging. 

At one point, we found a Grey Catbird on the ground (not so unusual) but hunkered down only  a few inches on the leeward side of the boardwalk.  Every leaf, stem, and twig outside of a 8" circle from the bird was shuttering in the breeze. But within the circle? Nothing moved. It was as if the bird had found a little haven from the windchill.

So, as we walked about, there was a part of me wishing I could get the camera from my car. Unfortunately, the persistent mist and drizzle would have wrecked my rig in no time.  The precip was light enough for birding but bad enough to get in my lens and camera.  Thus, no new pics for my post.

In any case, I would rather have  had the camera, nice temps, and good birds for the sake of comfort.  But, honestly, it was not my comfort I was thinking about. I could retreat to my car or get a hot meal.  I was really the hoping the day would warm up a bit so the birds could get some warmth and chow. They have enough trouble as it is with habitat loss and the like.  I'll take whatever I can get. They have it much tougher than I do.

At the conclusion of our short walk, we took a short drive to a new place. Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area is a short trip down the road from the Lake Erie shoreline. I had never been there before, so I thought a trip there today might do us some good.  "Anything special there?", you might ask? 

How about a bird that flies about 25,000 miles a year as it spends its life in eternal summer? 

The Arctic Tern is a bird rarely found away from the oceans.  Michigan, for example, has less than 20 confirmed records.  I would have to think that Ohio would be about the same, or more likely, less.

Now, before you get all excited about my photo, I took it at Potter Marsh in Alaska a few years ago.  I am just posting here so you can see it and I can have at least one picture in this post!

For the record, despite the wind and persistent mist, Natalie and I were able to see the bird pretty well.  Gray belly.  Uniform gray upper wings.  Deep red bill.  "More tail and less head" when compared to a Common Tern.  The bird was hunting the same pond for a few days now...

So, while dipping on the Black-necked Stilt up the road from the tern, the day was certainly memorable.  Viewing an Arctic bird, in the mid-west on a arctic-like day in May. How could we forget that?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

1,000th Beer Coming Soon!

After a few years of enjoying beer as a hobby, I have a reached a rather large milestone: 1,000 beers!
Well, not yet.  It will be in about a week and a half.
Here are the details....
What: Paul's 1000th beer celebration
When: Thursday, May 26th at 8:00pm
Why: Because beer is fun
You might be asking "Why a Thursday night?"  At the FSB, Doug Beedy, the brewer, taps a cask every Thursday.  The cask is simply  a small vessel (like a keg) were beer is fermented a second time. 
Doug is a beer-making machine and does the cask thing constantly but never does the same recipe twice.  I thought this unique "once in a life-time beer" would be a fun thing for a "once in life-time" milestone. You only have your 1,000th beer once!
So, I have made arrangements with him to be the cask-tapper.   While anybody can do this at FSB, I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate a milestone. The tapping happens around 8:00pm. 
The above image shows what I'll be doin',  I won't be wearing any hats.  

I will likely be there by 6:30pm or so to enjoy a dinner. 
If you are free for the evening, join me!
Holler if you have any questions!
I hope to see you all there! Bring people. It is, after all, a brewery!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two Steps Closer

With today off, I was originally planning on heading down to Ohio for some birding and photography. Hardly unusual in May, right?   

Before bedtime, a bird report had shown up that got me thinkin'.  A Painted Bunting in Bay County, Michigan. It was coming to a feeder!

As you can see, a Painted Bunting looks like a food-poisoned child puking Fruit Loops on a bird. The colors are just so mind-blowing!  Blues, red, and funked-out greens. What a stunner, right?  Despite their southern breeding range, they have made it to Michigan about 20 times.  I have never seen them in Michigan, but I have seen them in Florida, Texas, and New Mexico.  Should I drive to Bay City in the morning?

By the time I went to bed, I was still not sure what I wanted to do.

After getting up at 5:30am and checking my email, you might imagine my shock when I saw that a Mew Gull was found. Can you guess where? Bay City.  TWO miles from the Painted Bunting. 

Mew Gull?  No, you can't see them in a Taco Bell parking lot. At least not in the midwest!  The closet known breeding locations would be in west-central Canada, a short 1,500 miles away! You would have to put a bag over your head to miss this bird in Alaska, but with only 6 previous Michigan records, this day was suddenly a no-brainer!  A course was plotted for Bay City.

By 9:00am, I was on the beach. Hundreds of yards up the way, tucked in the debris (plants and logs and such) sat my 347th Michigan bird! Too far for me to photograph, the pic below is from my buddy Robert; he secured photos after I left and the bird moved.   He let me post it here.

The bill structure, lack of bill markings, dark eye, and the deeper gray to the back and wings make it pretty clear.  You might note, too, that the right wing feathers appear to be "up" in a peculiar sort of a way. That is not an artifact of the photo. It is injured.  I suspect the only thing that sucks worse than being 1,500 miles (or more!) from home is being so far from home and having a bad wing. There is no telling what this bird's future is, but I think it might be around for at least a few days!

From there, the feeder visiting, Fruit Look-colored Painted Bunting was my next stop.  State bird #348 arrived after about 15 minutes.  It was too far for me to get a good shot really.  I never even got my camera out of the bag.

The final part of my day was just awesome.  Buddies, teamwork, and relaxation.  That is how it should be!

On my final leg home, I got call from Don.  He could not join me (and no, I did not wake him up when I texted him at 6:00am!).  He was in Taylor staring at a Golden-winged Warbler.  Sure, I keep a list of birds for Wayne County but I simply could not remember if I had one.  I knew I did NOT have one at Lake Erie Metropark, so I figured I had better get this bird in case it was needed. The location was, after all, on the way home.

Despite the 60-minute drive that still lay ahead of me, Don agreed to stick around and help me find the bird.  He certainly did not have to do that, but he did.

Oh, but he did not just stick around and help me.  No.  He watched the bird's every move for one hour.  Every branch. Every shrub.  Every tree.  That bird did not budge without him knowing it.  When I arrived it was as simple has him saying "It's right there..."  I was half-waiting for him to say "It ate "x" number of insects and pooped "y" times here, here, and here..." He was watching it that closely!

Good directions would have been cool. He could have drawn a mark in the dirt marking its last known location.  All would have been good. Instead, he stood in the warm, spring sun (leaning towards "hot") and watched this bird for over an hour.

Above and beyond the call of duty if you ask me! Thanks Don!

As fate would have it, it was not a county bird for me.  Many years ago, a few years after college, I found one in Oakwoods Metropark.  At the time, I was a birding novice.  I kept bumping into my college instructor and we started birding together and have been birding together ever since.  Can you guess his name?  It rhymes with "Ron".

After we left the warbler (who was getting the snot knocked out of him by a Yellow Warbler), I made my way back to Oakwoods Metropark.  Was there a Golden-winged Warbler there again?  No, but there were plenty of Palm Warblers.  No pictures. No chasing. No driving. Just watching 'em feed from only a few feet away. 

A nice change of pace given the hectic feel of the morning....

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tired But With Rewards

I'm pretty beat.

Beginning this past Friday, I have been going pretty hard. Sure, work, but play time, too.
Birds, birds, birds, birds and birds.

Friday morning, by 7:45am, I was in northwest Ohio.  As predicted by some (certainly not me), it was an outstanding day for birds!  The trees were drippin'.  While some people are known as a "two-fisted drinkers", I was a "two-fisted birder" - binoculars in one hand and a camera in the other. 

The Black-throated Green Warbler (below) is hands-down one of the most memorable shots in recent months.  While hardly a rare bird in migration, this charming fellow was feeding only feet away. At one point, I watched him snag a midge and start munching.

Prothonotary Warblers are birds from the Deep South.  The Michigan/Ohio line is right on the edge of their range.  I have a few local records, but they are getting much easier to see in Ohio.  Perhaps we will see more of them in Wayne County in the coming years?

One of the oldest tricks in the birder's ID book is to know what you should see during a given time of year. A Red-breasted Nuthatch in Ohio in May was simply not on my radar!

Often, one hopes for some surprises.  While I walked the boardwalk twice, I missed this little fellow on both passes. I suspect you can see why!  About the size of a baseball, this Whip-poor-will was sitting pretty. If you look closely, you can make out the bill and one eye.  A nocturnal hunter, your best bet to finding this cryptic little bug-eater is to find them on a roost.  He was sitting about 12" off the ground. 

On the subject of surprises, the Barn Owl was a complete and total shocker!  While I have seen Barn Owl in Ohio before, the thought of one on the boardwalk at Crane Creek was just silly. But, sure enough, there it sat.  I have no idea who found it. Impressive find, eh?

An often over-looked bird would have to be the Red-winged Blackbird.  Noisy, obvious, and a life-style that would make a soap opera look tame, Redwings just don't get the credit or attention they need.  The bird seen below is a female. 

It is not always about the birds, by the way.  One of the fun aspects of birding in a regional mecca is the opportunity to bump into people you don't see as often as you like. Within minutes of my arrival, I was birding with my good friends Josh and Kara Haas.  Josh, a real honest-to-goodness photographer (unlike me - I'm a hack) has given me tons of pointers over the years.  Needless to say, when three birders/photographers get together, days can be fun!

The Red-winged Blackbird photo above turned out much better that it normally would have based on his simple but advanced thought - change the background.  The sky would have been at the top of the photo. By basically saying "Stand up here!" (on the bench), the angle changed and so did the picture. 

Saturday was a work day.  Busy busy.  But because I had to start early, my day ended early.  By getting off at 3:00pm, I had plenty of time to take a quick drive down the road.  I-75 that is.  I went to a suburb of a little town I suspect you know.  


"Why?"  you ask?  Once upon a time, a little old duck from the Old World (Europe) took a wrong turn and landed in southwest Ohio.  The Garganey is considered one of the rarest ducks in North America simply because it is not supposed to be here!   Once they get here (it has happened in the past), they seem to think they can get along with Blue-winged Teal.  

In the poor pic below, you can see the Garganey (life bird #642) on the right.  It is the one with the pale gray/blue side, brown head, and giant eyebrow stripe.  The left most bird is a male Blue-winged Teal while the right-most bird is a hen teal. She would, on occasion, smack  the crap out of the Garganey. What a horrible way to treat an out-of-town guest!

Knowing I had to be at work again at 7:00am on Sunday, I drove back home. Really.  3 1//2 hours to southern Ohio.  60 minutes to find and view the bird.  A quick bite at Subway.  3 1/2 hours back.  I was home by midnight and sleeping by midnight + one minute.

No, the drive was not bad.  In another post, I'll tell you about my new ride.  At speeds in the order of 75mph, I was still getting 40 miles per gallon!
In the meantime, I will be turning in soon.  Birding can be pretty tiring....

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sam's The Man! #983-987

Four ingredients make beer beer.  Water.  Yeast.  Malts.  Hops.  If you are missing one of the four, you no longer have beer.

Simple, right?

What if you change the concentrations? More malts, for example.  On that same thought, what if you change the time the malts were roasted?  What about boiling time?  Yeast varieties?  Water can change things too. The exact same recipe for a given beer will be different in Massachusetts vs Washington because the water is different!  All these little tweaks can change your beer.

Here is an interesting twist. What if you changed the variety of hops?  

Hops will taste different depending on where they are grown. It is simply one plant, Humulus lupulus.  Germany, England and Washington, to just name three locations, have hop varieties that taste very different because of differences in growing season, soil conditions, and climate.  So, a beer with hops from Germany should taste different than a beer with hops from Washington, even if ALL other components of the beer are the SAME.

Enter the Boston Beer Company. 

About a year ago, they played around with an IPA called Latitude 48.  Drawing a line around the globe at the 48th latitude, they included hops from areas grown close to that feature. Washington's Simcoe and Ahtanum hops, along with England's East Kent Goldings got the nod.  A pretty fair beer as I recall.  (It was my 890th beer. I had it on December 10th, 2010.)

Well, they took the idea one step further. While one beer with three hops is not so unusual, what about brewing the "same" beer three different times, each with one variety of hops.

Now you're talkin. 

Plus, what if you add a few extra beers to the 12-pack with more hop variety?

Even better!

A few nights ago, I picked up the 12-pack called "Latitude 48 Deconstructed" for the very do-able price of only $15.00.  12 beers (Duh. That is why it is called a 12-pack).  2 each of Original Latitude 48, plus IPAs brewed with Simcoe, Ahtanum, East Kent Goldings (the three hop varieties that were added to the original Latitude 48), plus beers with Halletau Mittlefreuh and Zeus hops.

Over the last few nights, I have done my own mini-beer tasting. 

I won't bore you to tears with the in's and out's of everything.  But, here are a few thoughts:

- IPAs might well be one of the most striking beers visually.  The copper tones are simply stunning.
- Hops really change the character of a beer. Yes, that goes without saying, but the opportunity to really see that impact (or taste it actually) is quite cool.
- The amount of grapefruit tones on the nose in the Simcoe IPA was really something. It was not just this "citrus" aroma you sometimes hear people talking about.  It was clearly grapefruit. Incredible.
- The hop aroma of the Hallertau Mittlefrueh IPA was very subdued.  It wasn't until the beer was on the tongue that one could really start to get a feel for the hop notes. 
- Words like "piney" and "earthy" are really quite descriptive of the Zeus while "floral" is a much better word to describe the taste the East Kent Golding (it started a bit "musty".)
- If you are doing a beer and cheese evening, a sharp cheddar is the way the go.

Folks, for 15 bucks you can't beat this offer.  12 beers of six species within the style. 

Give it a go.  If you like IPAs, you are in a happy place for the evening.

If you hate IPAs, well.................

By the way, my new beer total stands at 987 species!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Goose Photo Finally

I'm sure you have all been holding your breath to see the Ross's Goose from the other day. This guy I know  took some photos.  Here is one:

As I am sure you can tell (especially after not watching that silly wedding and brushing up on your goose ID instead....), this bird is clearly a Ross's Goose.  Snow Goose? No way.