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January 30, 2009

Superbowl Pigout On The Way! (And Other Stuff)

crow pigging out_DSC_0038_resized.JPG

Yeah take a look at that crow... Wow, is that a great embodiment of what too many of us will be doing Sunday - hogging down! Come on... admit it. Even if you're not a crazy football fan, on Sunday Feb. 1, your eyes might well glass over as you pass by your friend's informal buffet table, and then... Well... Katie latch the door. Take care - there are calories and sodium by the 1,000s and mgs respectively.

Other stuff...

Keep in mind that the 12th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count is nearing. Try not to miss out on the fun!

On a distinctly sadder note, the USDA carried out a sizable bird kill in NJ last Jan 23 - 25. Interesting to note that the poisoning was done on a Friday. (In politics, unpleasant activities often "happen" on Fridays. That's the day when there is the best chance that the media will completely gloss over the story - in "politic-speak", Fridays are referred to as "Taking-Out-The-Trash Day".) Maybe the timing was just a coincidence...

Gotta run, but keep our heart-unhealthy spaghetti recipe in mind (as well as the birds) come this Sunday.

See you by the feeders and wear your shoulder pads,

CapeCodAlan


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January 29, 2009

Getting Ready for a Simple Morning

Kitchen stuff ready 005_use this.jpg

The stuff above ain't very glamorous (nor is the photo itself - alright, the pic stinks). But the items depicted offer a slight insight into the slight hobby of backyard birding. There's nothing glamorous there... no $2000 lenses, no $1000 binocs... Just pretty simple stuff really.

  • A decent camera on a yard-sale tripod
  • Some cheap binoculars
  • A couples of buckets of birdseed
  • A notepad and a pen should we actually spot a Yellow-bellied sap sucker or more likely a Bigfoot
Just simple stuff meant for simple birding.

Maybe that's the trick in all this... For the most part we put out some seed, make sure that the birds have water, and then sit back and enjoy. The average reader of this blog doesn't spend thousands going to remote locations just to see the "Pago Pago Knee Knocker Bird". (And I'm not criticizing anyone here! Lord knows I've blown far more on far less than a bird trip.)

But maybe in these times, simplicity has its place.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 27, 2009

A Loss and a Rocket

IMG_2441_sizzler_resized.jpg

We all go through it - the loss of a loved one, a relative, or just a friend. But we all go through the process. In my case it was a family member who I should have gotten to know far better than I did... My failure and my loss.

Anyway, it's times like these when I turn back to the basics... For me they're math, rocketry, science, birds, boats, etc. Hence the dumb photo to the right.

Not sure what to say next... A fine soul has left this earth... And the rest of us are left behind to grieve and ponder more mechanical and failed vehicles.

Godspeed June,

Alan


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January 24, 2009

Day of the Robins

Hi all,

As best I can tell, it happens only once a year - a huge flock of robins descends upon our yard and pretty much pillages the place. Last year, I tried to get a few photos, but forgot to put a memory card in the camera. This year (my photographic wisdom greatly increased), I let my wife take the pics. Hence the shot below...

day of the robins_number 3__1_24_09_400.jpg

I'm not sure why the birds exhibit this behavior this time of year. (But there may be a clue... More about that in a bit..)

Today was moderate in temperature and dry. I checked the tomes of experts Sibley and Alsop, and yes robins are obviously gregarious. But that didn't explain the almost frenetic mob actions we witness per annum.

Perhaps Birdsource.org solved the mystery. Apparently during the cold months, robins show increased activity when the snow level drops. And therein might just hold the secret. If you look at the chart in the site above, you'll notice a distinct uptick in their behavior when the ground snow level drops. Now notice the slight remnants of our last big snowfall in the shot above.

I'm tellin' yah... Somebody should be selling tickets.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 22, 2009

Serenity

Toby and fireplace.jpg

Peace and quiet. After all the inauguration hullabaloo (congrats to President Barack Obama!), and the 1549 miracle on the Hudson, at last there's some peace and quiet.

So there's Toby "The Hefty and Sleepy," ready to take a well-deserved nap in front of the fireplace. It's exhausting work guarding the house from a flock of turkeys who regularly traipse through the yard, I tell you.

Think I'll go take a look and see if the bluebirds are at the feeder waiting for another ration of mealworms. And I'll check on the water in the birdbaths and the level of seed in the feeders--it's been pretty cold today and the birds need all the extra energy/food/suet/water they can get on days like this.

After all the hoopla, it's comforting to look out at the back yard and enjoy some peaceful scenes of nature... like this video.

See you by those simple feeders,

Mrs. CapeCodAlan


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January 19, 2009

Bird Video Galore! Also a Big Grrr!

Hi all,

As the old Stones' song goes, it's all over now. Check out the video below...

Oh, you're going to be seeing some serious bird videos.

But make no mistake about it... Getting this short flick into a format you could see was a royal pain in the tail feathers. It seems that my new video camera saves files in a slightly less than "plays well with others" format. (Read that: "Video hosting sites like PhotoBucket and Flickr don't completely embrace the files pouring off our new 'movin' pickture masheen.'") But aside from proprietary file formats and gobbling 1/4 MB/second... No prob... We'll be fine. Just brace yourself.

As for the vid above... Is that cool or what?!? A downy woodpecker and a chickadee. If your audio setup is good enough, you can actually hear the chickadee flutter. And that's just a fraction of the total 11 minute piece we filmed. We also had/have great "close ups" of:

  • the chickadee
  • a titmouse
  • house finches
  • blue jays
  • a nuthatch
Yeah... There are hours of video ahead, and a serious battle with the limitations of video hosting... Grrr...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 17, 2009

eBirdseed.com Video!

Hi all,

Yeah, it had to happen. I saved my nickels and dimes (literally) and finally bought a video recorder. Hot Dog Gone! We're talking optical incompetence in motion. More about the technical in a minute, but first check out the "Cecil B." work below.

I attached the camera to a tripod and set it out by the feeder. After some time, the camera mysteriously pointed skyward. Still, I did get a quick shot of a crow. (Before editing, the video was 47 minutes long.) No doubt the quality of content will improve.

Onward.

OK, so here's some of the "dweeb" camera stuff...

  • It's a Flip Video... Popular enough
  • As surprising as this sounds, it's only about the size of a deck of cards
  • 640 X 480 resolution
  • 1 hour of recording time
  • 2 GB of memory
  • Has 5 hr battery life (AA)
  • 30 frames/second (Good enough for smooth video)
  • Focal length .8 meters to infinity
  • Built in mic
  • TV out
  • Vids can be uploaded to YouTube
  • The only real downside seems to be the requirement for proprietary software.
Yup, yup, yup... If you're a repeat reader, you're going to be seeing a bunch of bird videos from here on out. And as you might expect, the videos will be posted in our photo library (link below).

Quiet on the set... Action... And roll'em by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 14, 2009

Killer Meaty Spaghetti Sauce

spaghetti_resized.jpg

As we occasionally do, we're going to step away from birds for just a moment and explore a new recipe. What follows is probably the most unhealthy spaghetti concoction ever devised. (See above.) Read that, if you're watching your sodium level and/or blood pressure, the following should be perused for humor purposes only. Let's get started...

  1. First, know your guests. This goop ain't for your local "Vegetarians Committee" or your "Heart Friendly" cardiologist. Nope. Not even close. This is Super Bowl food. This will put hair on Bigfoot's eyeballs.
  2. Gather your supplies:
    • 2 lbs of 80% ground beef
    • 1 or 2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce (Hint... Cheaper is better.)
    • Shrooms packed in water. I used 2 cans (6.5 oz. ea.)
    • Minced onions
    • Garlic powder
    • Tabasco sauce (Be afraid.)
    • 1 or 2 Slim Jims (Be very afraid.)
    • Large bag of your "go to" pretzels (Be aghast.)
  3. Work clean
  4. In a pot, brown the ground beef and drain off almost all of the grease. Leave about a tablespoon for flavor.
  5. Add the sauce
  6. Toss in the mushrooms and don't be scrimy with the water
  7. Dabble in the chopped onions and garlic powder to suit
  8. Shake in four or five robust splashes of Tabasco sauce
  9. Chop very fine the Slim Jim(s) and add to the mix
  10. Now, take that unopened bag of pretzels and shake vigorously. The idea is to knock the salt off the dough. Next, reach into the bottom of the bag and start collecting pinches of the salt itself and season appropriately.
  11. Finally, simmer slowly. Do not burn. I let mine stew for at least 30 minutes.
Oh yeah, "Killer Spaghetti", french bread and butter... That will get the job done.

Tough to see the feeders through those steamed-up kitchen windows,

CapeCodAlan


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January 12, 2009

Close Encounters of the Turkey Kind

turkey up close_resized_IMG_2371.jpg

This photo was taken at a distance far too close for comfort.

Originally I had stepped out to feed the crows some old popcorn and take some pictures of measurements of turkey tracks in the snow. However, my mindless monotony was quietly and very disconcertingly interrupted by a rather large turkey off my port side who was closing steadily. In my distraction I'd accidentally broken one of my cardinal rules - give wild animals lots of space and leave them alone, and everything will be cool. Oh goody...

(Before I tell the rest of the story, let me step up on my soapbox for just a bit. IMHO, there's something extraordinarily selfish in the "exploits" of "experts" who insist on capturing creatures just so they can get a pic or a video shot and perhaps some ratings on TV. Science is one thing... narcissism wrapped in science is another. I say that unless it's absolutely necessary to handle wild animals (tagging, etc.) leave them alone. And if you do have to tag, do it and release the animal ASAP without mugging for a camera. Think of it this way... A bird probably feels the same sensations of hopeless fear during tagging as we do during a car crash. Show some empathy.)

There... That off my chest... The big gobbler was approaching fast. He wasn't charging, but he definitely wanted to get to know me and that was not good. (As a kid I was attacked by a 2 lb. rooster, and he drew blood. Imagine what a 10 lb. turkey could do.) Thankfully, old instincts kicked in - I drooped my head slightly to the left without losing all eye contact, slowly backed up, and spoke very softly in a medium/high tone. (If you really want to learn how to back away from a confrontation with a wild animal, do what I did and learn with skunks. You'll know when you make a mistake.) And with that, the turkey changed course at about 3'. I backed off enough to take this quick shot of the fellow.

As for the original mission? The crows got their popcorn, and the turkey track measurement is below - 3" to 4" front toe to back spur. Like I said... Oh goody.

Turkey toe resized_IMG_2373.jpg

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 11, 2009

Don the Squirrel Leaps for Suet Off NovaBird Camera

Don getting ready to jump for feeder_resized_IMG_2328.JPG

In the last post, I mentioned that one of the photographic challenges that day was an unsteady remote camera (the green box in the shot above) made all the more unsteady by the squirrel standing on said camera. (For sake of brevity, let's just call that squirrel "Don". Note his brethren in the background no doubt cheering him on.)

Anyway, Don cleverly accessed the camera via the board that I clamped to the deck railing and was prepping to jump. What that image can't show are the "Ed Norton-esque" series of gesticulations Don used to calibrate the "springiness" of the board/camera rig. (You could almost hear, "Hey Ralphie Boy, I'm going for the rendered fat... It sure beats lunch in the sewers!")

I'm not particularly proud of the next pic... This is what the tail section of a squirrel looks like as it hurdles itself towards a feeder.

Don from behind jumping_resizedDSC_0331.JPG

Moving right along... Finally we have a nice close up of Don, all hunkered down in the feeder and dining on "Pork and Seed Pâte".

Don in feeder eating suet_resized_DSC_0371.JPG

Naturally, once this series of pictures was complete, I suggested that Don retreat back to his own feeder and he waddlingly complied... Still, someone should sell tickets.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 9, 2009

Backyard Birding... Sometimes, You Just Get Lucky

DSC_0153_excellent_resized.jpg

If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you already know that I ain't no Ansel Adams when it comes to cameras. And given the high winds today, I assumed that my pictures would take on an even more-than-usual blurriness. Still, I was intent to get some good closeups of our new bluebird guests using the remote, motion-activated NovaBird camera.

So, out came the NovaBird gear, including the 6' mounting board I clamp to the deck railing to jut the rig into the native 15" - 18" focal length to the feeder. So far, so good. But as always, I struggled to get power to the 'Bird - nothing that a multimeter, half an hour, and a spare extension cord couldn't fix... And there it was... both camera and feeder swaying in the breeze. (Keep in mind that the gadget's automatic shutter snaps every ten seconds if there's any movement.)

At this point, if you sense a tinge of skepticism, you're right. There was no doubt that there would be hundreds of shots; and fate being fate, virtually all of them would be blurry images of an empty feeder. As day turned to dusk, it was time to break down the assembly. And as if the whole project hadn't been "iffy" enough, I discovered that a squirrel had discovered that the mounting board made for a dandy trampoline onto the feeder. Oh goody...

And this is where the luck comes in... We caught almost 400 pics, and of those, at least a dozen were quite good. (I've already uploaded them into our free Flickr library in the "Favorite Bird Photos" area.) That was near miraculous. On a good day, just 2 or 3 keepers is considered a win.

So enjoy the bluebirds, the downy, and even the squirrel... (The squirrel shots alone hold yet another post!)

See you by those serendipitous feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 6, 2009

Bluebirds for POTUS?

resized bluebirds_IMG_2238.jpg

First things first. "POTUS" is an acronym "President Of The United States". So why POTUS? Check out the Weekly Standard entry below.

For someone with a full-time job as the nation's chief executive and commander-in-chief, the number of books he's read is quite amazing: 95 in 2006, 51 in 2007, 40 by Christmas last year. Yet he lost each year in competition with his friend and political adviser Karl Rove, who revealed their book reading rivalry in the Wall Street Journal. Recently Bush has begun using a Kindle wireless reading device.

Yeah... Kindle, and we're syndicated on Kindle. Who knows? Does Mr. and/or Mrs. Bush read this blog? Well, just in case...

Welcome Mr. President. While we occasionally touch on politics in our "Coffee Table Chats", that's the exception. And that's especially true today! It's taken us 8 years to attract bluebirds, and now we got 'em. (See the pics above and below.)

bluebird and gold finch_IMG_2272_resized.jpg

And there are lessons to be learned here...

  • Don't give up when trying to attract that "special bird". If the critters are local, it just takes time and effort.
  • Don't be afraid to use common-sense experimenting. For us, it was a matter of combining chopped up suet with seed in a domed dish feeder.
  • Don't lose track of seasonal needs. Winter especially calls for high-energy suet.
  • Finally, study the behaviors of the desired guests and tailor your feeders appropriately. In other words, don't expect non-tree-clinging birds to flock to a hanging suet cage.
Anyway, we've got bluebirds, and we're psyched!

CapeCodAlan

P.S. A massive hat tip goes out to President Bush for extending the protection of National Marine Monuments to an additional 200,000 square miles bringing the Pacific total to 355,000 square miles.


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January 4, 2009

Godzilla, Birds, Wind Farms, and Sobering Engineering

godzilla_400.JPG

I just wrote a slightly facetious post in my personal "Grand Rants" blog about how a Tennessee coal ash dam rupture caused the unleashing of Godzilla.... I say "slightly" because no one really knows what will happen when 2.5 million pounds of barium gets loose as it did Dec. 23 last. (See: The Birmingham News, ABC News, Green Daily, and Scientific American.)

So what has this got to do with birds? Quite a bit actually. Back in November, I wrote about the proposed Cape Cod wind farm, and got some comments both on and off this blog concerning bird hits. My point then (as it is now) was that the world is a rough place, and that this country had better get its "ducks in a row" pronto when it comes to energy generation and conservation. By way of explanation, let me backtrack...

On Jan. 28th, 1986, I was in my second year as an engineering student and bracing myself for yet another class in 4th semester physics. Once the class assembled (we numbered about half a dozen), someone announced that the space shuttle Challenger had blown up. Instinctively, we turned to our prof (a brilliant and wise man) and expected tears, but what we got instead was a sobering lesson in objectivity and "large-scale" thought. His message was as clear as it was somber - we were to become engineers, and we had to come to grips with the large-scale ramifications of large-scale projects like Challenger... No matter what, both good stuff and bad stuff is going to happen. The trick is to max the good, and min the bad.

And now we as a culture face that sort of a large-scale, sobering issue when it comes to wind power.

I can't speak for eBirdseed.com, and I certainly can't speak for you... But I can speak for myself... Quite frankly, I'd rather experiment with wind power and birds than face the absolute catastrophe in Harriman.

Thoughtfully, see you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 3, 2009

Birding for the Urban/Casual Enthusiast

Mergancer_duck taken with acer.JPG

Hi all,

My bad... My bust... My mistake. I've spent way too much time on this blog posting about serious rural backyard birding, and almost completely ignored the casual and/or urban birder. If the simple fact be told, so much of backyard/casual birding is the informality of the process. Take a look at the photo above. That won't win any prizes (it was shot with a palm-top computer webcam - see below), but it's good enough to preserve the image of a carved merganser.

Acer with pic of mergancer.jpg

You know what? Casual birding really does boil down to just that - casual. Maybe you're sitting waiting for the "T" in Boston and use your cell phone to snap a photo of a lowly pigeon. And maybe you jokingly show it to a co-worker, and then delete it - 15 seconds of fun for zipoid...

This world has become so serious... The Middle East is a nightmare... "Bailout?" Did someone say "Bailout"? The economy is something right out of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"...

Deep sigh... Just a bit of very informal birding can go a long way.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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