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.)