Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Charge of the Light Beer - #1,519

Imagine, if you will, men on horseback with lances and swords.  Perhaps you would be thinking of a medieval knight minus the armor.  Now imagine them in a mass, 600 strong,  racing across one mile of open field towards the enemy.  Imagine now that the enemy does not rise to meet them with more lances and swords.  

They have cannons.  

If this sounds appalling to you, welcome to Crimean War.  Fought during the 1850s in places would that include modern-day Turkey, the Russians lost to an alliance between France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire.  This war and the American-Mexican War, fought during the previous decade, set the tone for tactics used during the American Civil War (fought in 1860s). 

One chapter that stands out is the Battle of Balaclava. Fought on October 25th, 1854, it is one of those days in the annals of military history where students of tactics sit back in their chair...pause....and say "Ugh...".

With the town of Balaclava secured by the British and French, the Russians were concerned as their nearby naval fleet in fortress of Sevastopol was in jeopardy.  The British and French needed to dislodge the advancing Russians who had managed to entrench dozens of cannons in the surround terrain. 

All in all, things went well for the allied troops. They succeeded in forcing most of the Russians back.  Tactics of the time suggested that light cavalry would advance quickly and destroy the retreating enemy and perhaps even capture cannons.

During a series of communication gaffs, the Light Brigade, comprising over 600 men, was sent to attack the wrong artillery unit.  Instead of harassing and killing retreating enemy troops, they were "ordered" to advance across one mile of open ground straight in to the face of an entrenched artillery unit that had not broken. To make matters worse, the Russian artillery units were still in place on either side of the British advance.  Taking fire from three sides in a region now known as the Valley of Death, casualties were high.  One in three riders was killed or wounded - devastating losses by any standard.

Immortalized in a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Charge of the Light Brigade stands today as a textbook example of bad communication, poor intelligence, and pouty officers leading to a huge loss of life.  

Enter Eddie the Head.

Known to heavy metal fans around the world, Eddie is the mascot of Iron Maiden - one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time.  Always featured on their albums, fans are as interested in the artwork as they are the music.  From lobotomized lunatics to ancient Egyptian rulers to Battle of Britain pilots to space cowboy robots that make Clint Eastwood look like a Boy Scout, Eddie is "the" image of Iron Maiden. 

Track 5 of 1983's  Piece of Mind album is "The Trooper".  With "first person" lyrics referencing bugles, muskets, Russians, and horses, one might think the songwriter/bass player Steve Harris was dreaming.  It turns out the galloping bass line is perfect for what was his musical interpretation of The Charge of the Light Brigade.  The artwork shown above is from the single and highlights Eddie, saber in hand, on the battlefields of Balaclava. 

I recently secured a bottle of Trooper (#1,519) .  Brewed by a cooperative agreement between Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden's vocalist) and the Robinsons Family Brewers, this beer, officially a "strong bitter",  has apparently been flying of the shelves. 

In my pint glass, it poured a very beautiful gold-pushing-copper hue.  For a few minutes, the head (easily 3/4" of off-white foam) stayed in place. Clear as a clear can be, the beer really looked nice. Malty tones (almost like bread) with a tad of citrus notes made up the bulk of the aroma.  Once on the tongue, I confirmed the body was what I suspected during the pour - light.  Maybe one could argue a step down from medium.  Hops, including Golding and Cascade, were solid on the finish but not in an American IPA sort of way.  It seems much more in balance with the malt tones (showing yet again that the "strong bitter" title of the beer is not necessarily indicative of its taste).  Lacing was non-existent and the carbonation seemed pretty light.  

The rider who narrates the song gets shot.  Part of the the final verse reads:
And as I lay there gazing at the sky
My body's numb and my throat is dry.
I would argue that a time-traveling beer snob could bring a bottle of The Trooper to a trooper from the Light Brigade and said trooper would enjoy it.  Drinkable, light-ish and refreshing, a mangled soldier with an antiquated weapon would have no room to complain.  The "dry throat" would certainly go away. They might even ask for another one.  (This would be in contrast to the offer of a Budweiser - I'm sure he'd rather die...).

Me? Nah. One is plenty.  Overall, the tones suggest a beer that is staggeringly average: 3 out of 5.    There are lots of beers in the beer world. I've had my Trooper. Been there done that.  On to the next one.....


Monday, December 9, 2013

Back To School

I received an email today.  While not its entirety, you get the idea.....

I'm pleased to tell you that you have been admitted to the Historic Preservation Program for the Winter 2014 term.  You will receive an official letter from the University within the next couple weeks, but we wanted you to know right away. That letter will have your student number and PIN #; you will need these in order to register for classes. 
Welcome to the program!  
Yup, it's official.  I am officially a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University where I will be pursuing a Master's Degree in Historic Preservation.  

I bought new clothes and my mom will drop me off at the bus stop.  Do you think I can fit a craft beer in my Transformers lunchbox?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013 Thanksgiving Parade

My, what a difference a year can make.  Last year's Thanksgiving Day Parade was quite balmy.  All in all, it was the perfect weather for a parade.

This year?  Bone chilling cold.  Snow.  Fortunately, there was no wind.  In any case, with a camera condom in place, photos were to be had...

Yeah, this is not quite what I would call a clown mask, but it is still pretty damned cool.  I have to think that there is a strong influence from the old bird masks from the Black Death times.

Licking snow.  This is required behavior during the early snowfalls of the season.  (This is not to be confused with licking a frozen flagpole. That is very different and very dangerous.)

A little Photoshop fun can make an crisp image of an old car on a new street (Woodward) look old again.   This is probably my favorite image of the day. 

A clown. In this case, my soon-to-be mother-in-law, Sue.

Apparently, the outfits worn by the clowns are color-coded by years of service.  As one progresses through the years, they are allowed to modify their outfit.  Note the blue cape on the fellow in picture below.  He  has been in the parade for at least 25 years.  His cape says so. Sue, on the other hand, has an outfit that is literally half white.  That denotes less than 5 year of service. 

 It is also worth noting that clowns normally give $1,000 each year to do this, but the money cant buy you the colors.  We were told a story of fellow who wanted to wear the blue cape but did not have the time accrued. He was prepared to cut a $25,000 check so he could do it in his first year. The Parade Company rejected the offer....

Physics caused a bit of trouble with the balloons.  Some seemed a bit wrinkly and saggy.  Gay-Lussac's law, or the pressure law, was found by Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac in 1809. It states that the pressure exerted on the sides of a container by an ideal gas of fixed volume is proportional to its temperature.  In other words, the balloons deflated because it was cold.  Ahhhhh, real-life applications of science. Dontcha love it?

Many were just a few feet of the ground.  The result?  Uncle Sam looked like he was literally walking down Woodward.


More pictures were certainly taken.  236 to be exact. But, here you have 'em - the best of the bunch.....

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Clownin' Around

On site in Detroit. Parade time. Arctic temps. 

My possessed girlfriend and her mom. If one is not yet afraid of will be.... will be.......

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Reprimand

November 15 was the day, to work I was going,
A chill was in the air, but pleasant, no snowing.
Walking I was, to the door from my car,
Hungover I was not, despite a night at the bar.

In the distance I heard it: tea-kettle tea-kettle,
This bird song to some, can test one's mettle.
To me, however, I knew, the tiny singer by name,
This song I've heard for decades, no change it's the same.

A Wren from the south, down the Carolina way,
You'll see him on a quarter, when debts you pay.
With colors so warm, and eyestripes so bold,
For a few brief moments, I forgot the cold.

My camera I grabbed, my 400 lens, so big,
I approached the bird slowly, as he sat on a twig.
This way and that, he bounced, sallied 'round,
All the while he made song, that tea-kettle sound.

A descent Wren photo? Lets see what I can do,
Close enough I was,  I froze, a statue.
With aperture wide open and woods so far,
A pleasing blurry backdrop, no clutter to mar.

"Click " went the shutter, it went again "click" "click",
He posed for me, so proud,on his little wooden stick.
Before long, he was bored, to the woods he went,
Fine by me, I told him, my memory card, spent.

At home now, on my machine, at the pics, I look,
Most, I say "eh", but many I took.
One caught my eye, of so many I missed,
His tail seemed gone, his face set to "pissed"

He seems to say...

Hey, you suck. Dump it. That rig.
I stood here in the open, on my little wooden twig.
You saw me, I posed, with a body so brown,
The best you could do? You captured my frown!

And what of my tail, I have one, you know,
Learn to take pictures, to classes you go.
Our chance meeting, that morning, yes, it occurred,
Your picture? You blew it.   You, sir, are a turd....

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Niagara Frontier

Birds, brews and blither. That was the name of my blog when I started it in July of 2008. The idea was to have some fun with the letter "B" and have all the posts related via the alphabet's second letter. Battlefields, birds, books, get the point.

October 26th and 27th, Natalie and I had a chance for a getaway. Basically, it was that weekend or not.  While the future is hard to tell, if we didn't sneak out, there was no telling when we could make it happen.

So, with many people always itching to head North, we opted east.  The Niagara Frontier (as it was called in the early 19th century) was the destination.  As fate would have it, the "B" theme still worked, but so did the letter "F" - Falls, Forts, Fowl, Foul, Fermentation, the Fallen, and most importantly, Fun.

Believe it or not, Niagara Falls is really only about four hours away.  Knowing that, we opted to head out early on Saturday morning.  On the road by 5:45am, we were in the Falls region by 10ish (or so). Mid-way through the trip, we realized that the winds were blowing at hurricane speeds. Okay, not that much, but they were whippin'.  (It is worth noting that we did NOT check the all...prior to leaving.)

By the time we arrived at the Falls, it was basically raining sideways. Not a heavy rain, but certainly sideways.  In fact, it wasn't even a steady rain, but it was enough for us to adopt a new plan.  We opted to stay in the car and press on. A short drive up-river (south, by the way) took us to Fort Erie.  

Unfinished at the time the War of 1812 commenced, Fort Erie started off as a British fort.  Throughout the war, which lasted until 1814, the fort changed hands multiple times.  Just months before the war's end, the Americans, who held the fort at time, functionally destroyed it and left for Buffalo, New York (you can see the downtown from across the lake; its not far).  By the time the war ended, hundreds were killed (along with thousands of captured and wounded) making this region one of the deadliest of the entire war.

After a half-hearted attempt at re-establishing the fort in the Post-1812 era, things floundered. During the American Civil War, this region was a strategic stop during for the Underground Railroad. In the early 20th Century, families would picnic on the grounds. By the 1930, folks rooted in historic preservation opted to rebuild the fort as it was.  

Today, you can enter Old Fort Erie as a  Garrison used by British, Canadian and Iroquois forces as they prepared to defend Upper Canada during the War of 1812.  Whether it is the Officers Quarters (black and white photo below) or the Quartermaster's Department (the following photo), one can really get a feel for life in the fort.  Given the craptacular weather outside, we could really get a feel for crappy weather in a frontier fort. 

One of the most amazing chapters in the history of Fort Erie unfolded in 1987. A local teacher was breaking ground on his lakefront property so he could build his dream house. Construction workers caught a glimpse of white in the otherwise dark soils.  Before long, 28 bodies, all American soldiers, had been uncovered.  

The above photo is a nightmare.  It is a human humerous.  The knobbed end is functionally the elbow.  As you can clearly see, the cut end (where the bicep/tricep combo would be) was exactly that - cut.  With a hacksaw.  That obnoxious little tab on the bottom is where the doctor finally just snapped the bone.  If you have ever cut a dowel rod, you know what I'm talking about. 

Knowing the state of medicine during the early 19th Century (or more realistically, the lack thereof...), it is easy to see what happened here. The soldier suffered a huge injury to his arm.  A lead bullet smashing bone or perhaps a cannonball doing the same. The nature of the injury must have been huge. Doctors (we can use the word loosely), immediately recognized the situation and noted two choices - the soldier dies from his injury or amputation of the limb (knowing he might die anyway because they didn't understand infection or what caused it). That's it.  Die for sure or maybe die later.

With tourniquets in place and muscles cut and retracted, the bone is sawed in half. Blood vessels were tied off, and a wet plaster cast is put on the stump. The whole process is done in a less than 10 minutes.  No anesthesia.  A shot of whiskey would be the best one could hope for. Think about that the next time you stub your toe and it hurts...

The Snake Hill Cemetery, as it became known, was a mix of soldiers who died from wounds and the discard pit where severed limbs were unceremoniously tossed.  The indignity from the War of 1812 was corrected during burial in New York with full military honors.   

Before lunch, we found ourselves basically at the Peace Bridge (it connects Fort Erie with Buffalo).  The winds, still howling, had the gulls and ducks in a frenzy. Conviently parking right next to the "No Parking" sign (unless your birding - it says so in the fine print of your driver's training manual on page 18), we were just feet from the water.  

From the the safety of the car, the birding was dynamite.  We were hoping to see the Brown Booby, a hopelessly lost bird from the tropics who had been in the area for weeks. While we struck out with that bird, all three scoters (Black, Surf, and White-winged) were zipping in all directions. Long-tailed Ducks by the dozens were doing the same.   Bufflehead, Redheads and other seasonal ducks were plentiful. I can say with certainty it was some of the most fun birding we have had in a while.

It became especially fun when Natalie noted a funny Bonaparte's Gull.  "Paul, are Bonaparte's Gulls supposed to be all black under their wings?"  Ummmm, no. Little Gull. Point-blank range.  

It needs to be noted that this was Natalie's life bird Little Gull.  She found it.  No one showed it to her. For some birders (those of us that don't lie), that is especially important and notably fun. When you go to stakeouts and one shows you a new bird, it can be fun, but it just doesn't have the same degree of excitement.  Finding your own birds is just about the coolest it can get.  (For the record, there were at least two other Little Gulls in the area mixed in with the hundreds of Bonaparte's.)

After a quick but late lunch at The Barrel (where the food was hot and the service was cold), we simply doodled our way down the river (heading north).  Past the falls, we checked into to our hotel and then continued.  By Queenstown Heights, the sporadic rain became steady; we did touristy stuff.  

Dinner had us in places all people should go - the local brewery.  Taps on Queen?  It might sound familiar to those of you who read this blog (all nine of you).  I was there a few years back.  Knowing it was certainly worth the stop the first time, it made sense to head back for another round. 

The Niagara's Best Blonde Ale (#1503) wasn't that at all.  Charleston Lager, Sinister Sam's Insane IPA, English IPA, and Pumpkin 3.14 ("pie"get it? Pumpkin Pie...?) (#1,504 - 1,507) were all average to outstanding. 

The best of the bunch was the English IPA.  The left-most beer in the above photo, the head was crazy and long-lived while the body was thick and creamy.  Earthy and hoppy, this is a total keeper.  It is important to note that it is an English IPA - they tend to be less hopped than American IPAs.  The balance of this beer was near perfect. Hands down, this was one of the best beers I have had in a long long time. A "5" for sure.

It is also worth noting that darts are weapons.  As I mentioned during our trip report to the Brickside Brewery in June, drunken darts can be dangerous.   It is worth noting that 10-year olds slinging metal-tipped darts like a baseball pitcher on the mound is a bad idea.  While we were near the dartboards, we were directly opposite the presumed line of fire.  So, when the dart from the kid came crashing towards me and hit me in the leg, I was not happy.  No, it was not the sharp end, but that is not the point (no pun intended).  If he can't even control the direction he is throwing the damn thing, a head-shot is just as plausible.  Needless to say, I was not happy (nor were the folks one table over). Fortunately, the kid did not have to wear the dart home as a genital piercing.  A stern warning seemed to be enough.....

After returning to the hotel, as fate would have it, the rain stopped. No rain meant a short trip to the Falls.

Only 167 feet tall, the Niagara Falls certainly aren't the largest falls in the world in terms of height. However, with three total falls straddling the border, the six million cubic feet of water that flows over the edge every minute have been a source of amazement for centuries.  

Yes, I said "three falls". While most people are familiar with Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the border, the American Falls are actually two separate cascades- the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.  Separated by Luna Island, Bridal Field Falls can be seen in the above photo on the far right.  Its the purple one.

By the way, please don't correct me on the Bridal Veil Falls thing. I know what some of you are thinking.  "Oh, you dope, that's in Yosemite....". Yes, it is.  And Washington.  And Colorado. And Utah.  And South Dakota. And South Carolina. No, wait. They have TWO Bridal Veil Falls.  There are at least EIGHT Bridal Veil Falls in the United States.  

Sunrise was nothing more than a nice sit-down breakfast at the hotel.  A quick stop in town for some hot drinks gave us a chance to see the crazyiness that is Niagara Falls (the town) during the daylight hours as opposed to the crazyiness that is Niagara Falls (the town) during the night. Like a mini-Las Vegas, the lights, shops, bars, casinos and the such are just insane.  They even have a wax museum there, too. Oh joy. Wax dummies. Just what we needed to see.  After all, we have plenty here in the good ole U. S. of A.   

Note the use of the word "sunrise". Finally. The had winds more or less died off. The blue sky was trying to break out. What a stellar morning. With the opportunity to try and photograph the falls with some real light, I gave HDR imaging a go.

After noodling around a bit, Natalie and I opted to head north.  Given our travels the previous day, in the rain, we went back to places we certainly wanted to see again....

October 13, 1812 was a turning point in the often overlooked War of 1812.  A few miles south of Niagara on the Lake, a large bluff called Queenstown Heights overlooks the little hamlet of Queenstown.  On that chilly October day, American forces secretly crossed the river and captured the prominent feature from the British.  (Remember, in the days before airplanes and other advanced weapons, the high was of huge strategic importance.)

Knowing that the re-catpure of the Heights was paramount, Major-General Isaac Brock led British forces in an assault....from the front.

To put that in perspective, imagine General Dwight D. Eisenhower charging the beaches during the D-Day invasion. Or perhaps General Norman Schwarzkopf driving the first tank during the first invasion of Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. Needless to say, by today's standards, Brock's decision was quite stupid. But today is not yesterday.

History and physiology don't agree. The bullet that crashed into his chest pierced his heart.  Both written accounts of the assault and the jacket he was wearing (on display in Ottawa) testify to this. The suggestion that he stated "Push on, brave York Volunteers" as he lay gasping is more or less just silliness than anything else. He was likely dead before he hit the ground.

Popular leader that he was, he was eventually buried under a 185-foot monument that sits atop Queenstown Heights. While the fit is apparently very tight, during the tourist season, one can ascend the tower via the winding internal staircase to enjoy a commanding view of the Niagara River.

As if to still guard Brock, four stone soldiers are positioned at each corner.

Brock, interestingly enough, has been voted one of the greatest Canadians in the country's history. A university, various roads and monuments across the country testify to Canada's love for this man.  That is all pretty impressive considering he was British and his personal accounts show clearly that he did not like Canada.  He thought of it as a hole and he wished to be back in Europe fighting Napolean. He also mistrusted the citizens of the country as he thought that they were basically American sympathizers.  Go figure.

So, while I was taking photos, Natalie wandered the grounds.  Seasonal migrants were everywhere, leaves were in full color,  and the lack of tourists by the busload make for an awesome time.

A quick lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake brought us to Fort George. The "other fort" on the Canada side of the river also played a key role during the War of 1812 as it was literally a cannon shot away from Fort Niagara on the New York side.  

Sadly, like Fort Erie, Fort George is a reconstruction (on the original footprint) from the 1930's.  But, don't let that stop you from a visit if you are in the area. Time travel.  It's all about time travel. 


A quick drive back to Niagara-on-the-Lake allowed us to scrape up another locally made ceramic mug.  I started this collection - "mugs from vacations" -  years ago. Knowing they are now "our mugs", the collection includes pieces from Michigan, Montana, Arizona, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Nebraska, and West Virginia. I suspect I missed one or two, but you get the point.
With sunlight slipping away, we gave the Falls another go. The pretty sunset colors never really materialized.  Gray set in.....

So with that, we set a course for home. 

I started this post with a reference to "Fs" and not "Bs".  Niagara Falls, Forts George and Erie, fowl (as in ducks), foul (as in Saturday's weather), fermentation (at the brewery), the Fallen (Isaac Brock) and, of course, fun.  Fortunately, a pierced fibula at the brewery did not occur.  Had it happened, another F-word might have come to mind......

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tern: 1 Perch: 0

I took this picture a few days ago at the park.

In case you are not sure, the bird is a Caspian Tern.  The fish appears to be a Yellow Perch.  (Seriously. The orange tones on the belly, whitish chest, green tail and overall shape are a perfect match.)  

Somebody had a bad day......

Sunday, October 20, 2013


The term "assassin" usually applies to hired killers or those that have killed persons of influence for some other gain beyond the dollar. John Wilkes Booth, Gavrilo Princip, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Mark David Chapman are just a few that history has provided in just the last 100 years. 
Interestingly, all of these killers used firearms. Don't think for a minute that all assassins use guns. Just ask Georgi Markov.
The Bulgarian dissident writer who fled the Communist Regime and moved to the West was standing at a London bus stop in 1978.  Feeling a sharp pain in his thigh, he turned to see man holding an umbrella. Upon reporting to work, Markov mentioned the incident to co-workers. As the day moved along, a fever developed and soon worsened. Three days later, he was dead.
His co-workers mentioned the bus stop incident to the police. Suspicious that his death was really a successful "hit" (after two known unsuccessful attempts), a full autopsy was performed. A small metal capsule had been stabbed (or shot) into his leg. It was covered in a sugar-like coating designed to melt at body temperature. Eventually, ricin flooded his system.  Extracted from castor beans, this poison is lethal in doses that would compare to a few salt grains from your average shaker. 
His assassin was never caught though the individual was rumored to be hired by the KGB.

We know it wasn't the critter in the photo below even though they use a similar modus operandi. 
Known to some as an Assassin Fly, this handsome critter is officially known to entomologists as a Robber Fly.  As a predator, you could perhaps think of it as robbing its prey of life.  Call it what you will, if you pay attention to the beasties of the wild, you will see one before too long. 

Officially members of the family Asilidae (Uh-SILL-uh-day), Robber Flies are true honest-to-goodness flies (unlike Dragonflies which are completely different). Found on all continents except Antarctica, over 7,000 species have been described in science.  Over 1,000 can be found in North America alone.

The big ones can be almost two inches long.   It is what they do with that two-inch body that helps them earn the name (which ever you choose to use).  Using the six powerful legs, flying prey is literally snagged from mid-air.  That prey, by the way, can include just about anything that is small enough for them to capture.
Keep in mind, the use of the word small is more of a reference for us.  For them, their prey is often as big as they are! Other flies, wasps, butterflies, true bugs, and dragonflies are just some of the things that find themselves in the Robber Fly death-grip.

But it is not the gripping that does the killing. It is their mouth.  No biting here.  Nope, they poke.  Armed with a short, stout probiscis (pro-BOS-kiss), they stab the prey after they have secured a grip.  Protein-dissolving enzymes are injected into the prey's body.  Paralysis sets in and internal tissues break down. The "flow", if you will, then reverses.  Instead of injecting more enzymes in to the prey, the dissolved guts are sucked out.  (Remember, insects have an exoskeleton so the gooey innards are contained in a shell much like juice in a drink box with the straw filling the role of the proboscis.) Hunting resumes for another liquid lunch.  

Now think back to Mr. Markov....
Prey.  Predators.  Ingenious needle-like delivery systems.  Toxins. Death.

Who would have thought that the animal world and world of global espionage would have anything in common.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

On To 2,000!

So Thursday was the big night!

1.9 million 20 people descended on the Fort Street Brewery for my 1,500th beer! 

As noted earlier, the Queen Bee II is (was?) an English-style IPA with honey, Barenjager (a honey liquour) and Stoli Sticki Vodka (honey vodka) all added for a secondary fermentation. 

How would I describe it in a word?  Great!  Admittedly, most the honey tones were lost to the power of the vodka, but I can't complain.  You might think of it as those beers that are aged in bourbon barrels so the bourbon tones blend with the beer.  (That said, if you do not like Vodka, you would not like this beer.)

In case you are keeping count, a quick rundown of my spreadsheet shows that about 180 of my 1,500 beers are from the FSB.  That's what you get when your local brewer is a machine!

Thanks all! See you soon!

On to 2,000!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Seeing Red

At Lake Erie Metropark, hawkwatch numbers by the end of the season can be quite impressive.  Tens of thousands of birds (even hundreds of thousands!) have been recorded during the three month count season.

What often goes unsaid is the simple notion that "seen" vs "close" is like saying "fork" and "automobile tire". In the end, they really have nothing to do with each other.  Thousands of birds could easily be mere specks on the horizon looking like dust on a binocular lens.  Photographers hope for the best as most birds are beyond a camera's reach even with a 400 mm lens. It can be quite frustrating at times. 

Today, while heading to the park for a bit of hawking, I spied this gem circling in the stiff wind.  I was nowhere near the watch.  I can't even be certain this is a migrant bird.  If he was migrating, I would have expected him to be moving along. He was in view for a few minutes.....just lolly-gagging on the wind.

You might argue I was seeing red.  No, not in the mad sort of way. In the color sort of way. This Red-tailed Hawk was putting on quite a show. To the best of my knowledge, I had the bird to myself.  

How can I get mad about that?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

1,500th Beer on Thursday!


That crazy spreadsheet I've been keeping for years has its advantages.  When I go to the party store, I can access my list and confirm whether or not I have had a particular beer.  Perhaps more importantly, when people find out I have said beer spreadsheet, they know I'm cool and they're not.

But, its not all about coolness.  It also helps me keep track of milestones.  #500 was a bottle of Chimay at the Oak Cafe.  That would have been August of 2008.  May of 2011 was my 1,000th beer.  It was the Mango Tango at the Fort Street Brewery.  

As you perhaps gathered, I've had a few beers since #1,000.  With travels to the Pacific Northwest, Arizona and the Lake Superior Circle tour from a few months back, it was only a matter of time for #1,500.

So, it will be THIS Thursday, October 17th.  Natalie and I will be arriving via tandem hang-glider at the Fort Street Brewery were we will be greeted with trumpets and rose petals in time for dinner. 6:30pm or so.  The cask will be tapped at 8pm.  

The cask, by the way, is looking to be a winner. Doug's 272nd cask, the Queen Bee II is an English-style IPA with honey added.  In addition, Barenjager (a honey liquour) and Stoli Sticki Vodka (honey vodka) were dumped in.  Get it? Bees? Honey? Did I really have to explain that to you?

(If you are not certain what the cask is, it basically goes like this - beer is added to a small keg along with other fermentable sugars creating what is called a "secondary fermentation".   This second run allows for an introduction of flavors based on what was added.  Pumpkins, chocolate, peppers from a garden and anything else the mind can dream up are all fair game. Most breweries do these now and then. Doug does them weekly.)

I have not made arrangements to be the cask tapper ( I did so for the 1,000th beer).

If you are reading this, considered yourself invited!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thanks, Guy

While many birders might struggle to name the most beautiful bird in North America (after all, it is a matter of opinion), most would certainly suggest that the Great Egret ranks near the top.

Standing over three feet tall, they are cousins to the Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron and a host of others. All share the same physical features - long legs, long necks, and dangerous, dagger-like bills. Collectively known as "waders", they are commonly found in marshes, river edges,  and other gooey places.  

A few days ago, I snapped the image below while at the hawkwatch. 

I should...,no...we all should... take a moment and thank Guy Bradley.  Sadly, he can't read this post.  If he were alive today, he would be 143 years old.  Unfortunately, he never saw his 36th birthday.  He was murdered.

During the later years of the 1800's, breeding plumes (interestingly enough known as aigrettes) from waders were all the rage in fashion. In fact, birds in general were fashionable.  Dozens, if not hundreds of species, modeled as pieces or intact specimens, were known to adorn woman's hats. From hummingbirds to small owls, birds were in.

Economic pressure placed huge dollars on egret breeding plumes.  The commercial feather trade was huge. With some prices approaching $32 per ounce, pristine plumes were worth more than gold.  Rookeries were being abandoned as birds tried to find new locations for nesting.  All the while, birds were being shot in massive numbers.   Entire populations of wading birds were being wiped out.

Shootings continued despite the creation of the National Wildlife Refuge System by President Roosevelt in 1903 and the Lacey Act of 1900.    By 1904, 34 game wardens in 10 states  had been hired to stem the tide of the slaughter.

One was Guy Bradley.  

A former plume hunter himself, Bradley denounced the slaughter once he saw its impact.  His knowledge, acquired during his plume-hunting days, made him the perfect adversary for poachers as he knew the strategies and tactics.  As a deputized sheriff, he could arrest those he found violating the laws (something his standing as a warden apparently did not allow).

Sadly, on July 8, 1905, Bradley was shot and killed by a grizzled Civil War Veteran by the name of Walter Smith.  Previous altercations between Bradley and Smith (along with his two sons) brought about threats with finally escalated to reality when Bradley tried to arrest the trio in the midst of a poaching raid just outside of Flamingo, Florida (now within the boundaries of Everglades National Park).  

Smith claimed self-defense.  Those that knew Bradley didn't buy it.  Apparently, he was a crack shot.  If he fired first, Smith would have been killed right then and there.  Without enough evidence for a conviction, Smith served five months in jail only because he did not have sufficient funds for bail.
He died in 1935. His obituary made no mention of the events on what must have been a steamy July day in 1905.

Regardless, Guy Bradley's death was not overlooked at the time and is not overlooked today.  His murder (as well as the death of two other wardens during the next two years) forced Congress to enact bigger laws with stiffer penalties.  The plume trade faded away as bird conservation took steps forward.  The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, in 1988, began presenting two annual Guy Bradley Awards to deserving conservation officers.  A trail at Everglades National Park honors his name.

Ironically, the salt marshes of South Florida claimed Bradley's body.  Buried on a shallow ridge in Cape Sable, his grave was washed away by the tremendous tidal action of Hurricane Donna in 1960.  The stone was recovered but his body was never found.  

It's certainly something to think about the next time one sees a Great Egret, especially with those amazing breeding plumes they sport in the springtime.....

(By the way, Death in the Everglades is an outstanding read.  I purchased it when I was in Florida in 2006.)

Friday, September 27, 2013


Almost any kid on almost any playground across the eastern half of the country has played with helicopters. I know I did. With giant handfuls, we chucked them into the air as hard and as high as we could.........and just watched them spin to the ground. The more in your hands, the better the effect.

Of course, most kids in elementary school aren't going to call them an achene from an Acer species.  That's what they really are, ya know. A winged seed from a maple tree.

The idea is simple. If the seed has little wings, the wind can carry it away from the parent tree.  It's the same idea as cottonwood fuzz and dandelion parachutes.

If you pulled me aside as a kid in the late 1970's and told me "Hey, you're gonna take a picture of one of those helicopters in the park where you work when you're all grown up...", I would have thought you were crazy. 

If you told me, again as a kid, that the black background was simply the shadows in the distance, but the branch and seed, lit from behind by the sun, were properly lit for the image by adjusting the exposure compensation by -2/3, I would have no idea what in the hell you were talkin' about.

That's all kinda neat,  if you ask me. The same exact thing seen two different ways by the same guy at the bookends of his life (so far).  I'm sorry, that's just kinda neat.

Oh, don't be confused here. Sure, I have a biology degree.....

.....but they're still helicopters.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bowels Brewery

Here in the Midwest, one of the top breweries is Bell's  Brewery. Starting with 15-gallon kettle in 1985, they have grown to employ over 200 people in 18 states. As any beer guy/gal can tell you, they do well.  As far as I'm concerned, you can't go wrong with their product.

According to this story, a 61-year old Texan was recently getting crocked but he declined the notion that he was drinking.  His wife and others thought he was sneaking sips when no one was around.

His trip to the Emergency Department, where he blew a 0.37, apparently tripped off some medical professionals.  After locking him in a hospital room (and confirmed he had no alcohol hidden on his person), they tested his blood alcohol content over a 24-hour period. 

They confirmed, just by eating, he would end up drunk.

If you had been following along with my last two blog posts (here and here), you would have a simple understanding of brewing.

To summarize, sugars come from grains.  Yeasts eat sugar.  Yeasts burp carbon dioxide.  Yeasts pee alcohol.  Interested parties drink yeast pee.  Interested parties have fun. 

The Texan?  Brewers yeast had set up shop in his guts.  Just the act of eating would make him drunk.  By ingesting starchy foods (like pasta), the sugar was providing food for the yeasts. Its called Auto-brewery Syndrome. There have been a few cases here and there in the medical records.

I don't like that name.  Too technical.

Lets go with Bowels Brewery.   

As an aside, think back to the brewing process.  If this guy's guts were going great guns with alcohol production, were was all that carbon dioxide going.....