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!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Live at Tashmoo! I'll babble later!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone