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August 30, 2013

Perfect Polly

Every time I see the following commercial, I get both baffled and a little freaked...

Maybe it's just me, but is that just weird or what? I understand the need for companionship, and birds do make for good company... But birds with batteries?

This sort of reminds me of the Bill Gates' prediction that in the not too distant future (five to 10 years) home robotics will be big business. (I know a little about this having specialized in robotics in my computer engineering program in college and having built a CNC machine in my first job after graduation.) It's pretty simple really:

  • We have cheap and extremely accurate stepper motors for motion...
  • The newest processors are exceptionally powerful... A quality CVS calculator has more computing power than the Eagle -- the first lunar lander...
  • The costs of memory and storage are plummeting...
  • Every graduate engineering and/or computer science program has an artificial intellegence curriculum, and they're in the hunt for the Holy Grail of programming -- true AI itself... Many insiders believe computer self awareness is only 25 years away... When that occurs, Perfect Polly will not only be able to sing but will also be able to thoughtfully talk with you about your depression, and secretly long for real flight just like the other birds...
Who knows what will happen to Perfect Polly?

Still baffled and a little freaked by the feeder...

CapeCodAlan


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April 6, 2013

Gun Locks and Gun Safes

38 with lock_420_IMG_5264.JPG

Taking a break from the birds...

Rightfully so, a lot has been said about new firearm legislation, and way, way, way too much has been uttered by either: people who don't have a clue, people blind by agenda, or slug politicians prostituting themselves for votes. Here's the skinny from a political agnostic who grew up with firearms...

No one is going to argue the point of gun safety... But the question becomes, "Is the gun above safe?" That's it. "Yes" or "no"... To many in the public and in Congress, the answer is "Yes". Too bad they don't know what the Hades they're talking about... There are a number of answers with one final encompassing one...

  • Well, I guess if you live in a safe rural area, and there are only small children around, it's probably safe to store the gun like that...
  • If you live in the typical residential area and have young adults around, that gun lock is a joke... (Anyone with a clue can cut through that in seconds... Anyone care to bet that I can't cut through that lock in 60 seconds?)
  • As for high-crime areas... That pretty blue cable is just a convenient carrier for the bad guys. What do you think? Do you think these guys are stupid???
The sad thing is that too many in our society look at the pic above and think all is well... It isn't... IMHO, the only real answer is a true gun safe bolted to the floor and alarms.

Safe by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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November 5, 2012

Flicker and How to Electrocute Yourself...

Well... That's an interesting title for a post! I'll get to the electrifying part of this entry in a bit... But First the Flicker...

"I'm hiding..."
01_hiding.jpg

""You can't see me..."
02_hiding.jpg

"You found me!"
03_hiding.jpg

Now... About frying oneself... Speaking as an engineer, and someone who has spent three years in electronics labs and countless hours huddled over boards and motherboards, I have some degree of expertise here... There are two types who get bitten by electrons doing their happy dance -- the novice and the experienced... I fall into the latter group. As I've mention to you before... If you don't know what you're doing, call an expert. And if you do know what you're doing... FOCUS!!! And it's that lack of focus that almost got me crispy last night... I was cutting a 120V line in the living room all the while thinking about how I was going to wire the basement... POP! SPARKS! UPS GOING OFF! I had absentmindedly cut into a live line, and the only thing that kept me from potentially walking the Streets of Glory was a penny's worth of plastic insulation on my cutters...

So... Whether you're an old hand at electrical work, driving, flying, or whatever... Focus or else...

Still alive by those colorful feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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September 17, 2012

Sconces and Multi-Media Center...

Hi,

In keeping with the 'domicile and yard' feel of this blog, I thought I'd clue you in to my latest agony... project... of installing a couple of sconces above the old fireplace. In the pic below, you can see where they'll be located. (A painting will hang between.)

location in red_420_IMG_4620.JPG

The only real problem is that I'll have to work in this spider-infested network, and I suffer from the world's worst case of arachnophobia... (I wonder if the board of selectmen would mind if I introduced a flame thrower into my basement? I mean, what could go wrong?)

web 400 IMG_4624.JPG

But the bigger picture is this... While I'm making merry with those eight-legged bustards, I might as well turn the entire corner of the living room into a multi-media center...

Entire corner for media center_420_MG_4625.JPG

Here's the plan Stan... The clock will go, the big TV/rolling stand will be sold to cover the cost of a newer, smaller unit. (Anyone want a two year old 40" LCD TCL setup??? We'll make you an offer you can't refuse...) The new one-eyed brain bandit will be mounted to the wall roughly where the clock is now, but will be able to swivel in and out and sided to side as well as tilt for improved viewing. That puppy will be attached to a computer/DVD/cable system stored in the existing bookshelves for total sensory participation. (Yeah, I'm getting carried away, but I've got to convince Mrs. CCA...) Toss in some 5.1 speakers, and football and the 'knife channel' never sounded or looked so good... Yeah, yeah... That's the ticket...

By the spiders and the sawdust and a deliriously happy Mrs. CCA...

CapeCodAlan


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August 5, 2012

NASA's Curiosity and Money...

By now, you probably know of NASA's Curiosity, the one-ton Mars explorer... If NASA pulls this one off, we should be getting mind bending pics of the 'Red Planet'...

Is that cool or what!?! Come 1:20 AM tonight, you might want to hit the news channels... But what does it cost, and how does that cost compare to our current national fiscal situation?

Here's the pecuniary answer short and sweet... The Mars Curiosity program cost $2.5 billion -- that's 2,500 piles of money, each of which contains one million dollars. So, if our republic of ~300 million folks paid for our space program on a per capita basis, that boils down to about $8.30 per person. I'd say that's the cheapest, most long-lastingly educational, and most enthralling show in town... But to put a minuscule $2.5 billion dollars in a horrific perspective... Our country racks up $4 billion in interest on our debt each day...

By the feeders, looking up, and hoping for the best...

Go NASA!

CapeCodAlan


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February 24, 2012

Owl in Slow Mo, War with the Seagulls, and Final Pestering on the GBBC...

Hi,

First off, there's a bunch of copies of a fantastic video (various qualities) out there of an Eagle Owl shot at 1,000 frames per second. I've sent an email to the company that released the piece asking for permission to use it. More on that copyright info as I get feedback. (In this day and age of the Internet and YouTube, copyright doesn't mean what it used to, but still, I try to play by the rules...)

Now, about them seagulls... I'm not a huge fan of the concept of 'nuisance animals' but the gulls have got to go. They are obnoxious brutes who frighten off even the crows -- this means war.

400_IMG_2368.JPG

The answer of course is to not feed them. But how to accomplish that? To feed the crows is to feed the gulls... Or is it? Earlier this week I began putting bits of suet into a standard tube feeder which is slung under the trellis. While the crows can easily worm their way to the suet, the hulking, awkward seagulls are pretty much out of luck. This is only a temporary test, but the secret seems to be revealed -- arrange/create a feeder that the crows can access that will either stump the gulls, or prove inaccessible to the idiots. Stay tuned -- this dust up isn't over by a long shot.

Lastly, here is just one more nag reminding you about turning your Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) report... To give you some perspective, here are the stats so far for 2012:

  • Total Checklists Submitted: 93,755
  • Total Species Observed: 609
  • Total Individual Birds Counted: 13,219,893

By the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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February 21, 2012

What About Your Backyard Bird Count Report???

Hi,

So have you submitted your Great Backyard Bird Count yet? Here's how ours broke down after 30 minutes of what I initially thought would be zipoid activity...

pg 2_2012_420_2012-02-22_003609.jpg

2012_420_2012-02-22_002944.jpg

Note the two hawk sightings... Let's just say that they were up close...

420 red tailed_blur keep__MG_3785.JPG

Not bad... We even had a visit from a rather unusual downy...

420_orange_MG_3793.JPG

Who knows why the orange undersides and eye stripe...

By those studious feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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February 16, 2012

Great Backyard Bird Count and Birds and Barometric Pressures etc...

Hi,

First off, don't forget that the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) starts tomorrow! It takes as little as 15 minutes and is quite enlightening... don't miss out!!!

Next up... Back on January 22nd, I started wondering about bird activity and the barometric pressure (and the weather etc.) Was there any sort of correlation? So for the last 25 days I've been making quick notes on feeder traffic, and today, I looked up the atmospheric conditions for those days using the wunderground site. What follows is more or less self-explanatory -- my location's weather charts (in color) for Jan and Feb followed by my own charts (black and white) for observed bird activity. Take a second and it should all make sense...

Jan weather 400 2012-02-16_112249.jpg

Jan activity 420 2012-02-16_124034.jpg

Feb weather 400 2012-02-16_112249.jpg

Feb activity 420 2012-02-16_124034.jpg

Wasn't that exciting? (Before I go further, just a word about these charts and this 'research'... The stuff above is wildly unscientific: the sample size is miniscule, the observations are subjective and uncorroborated, and the initial objective was a blur to begin with. That being said, about the best we have is a 'hmmm study'.) The only things I find even slightly compelling are the activities around Jan. 27 and 28; and Feb. 11 and 12 -- when the barometer tanked (or was about to tank), the birds seemed to be riled...

As I said, not very scientific, but fun nonetheless...

By the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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February 15, 2012

Something Different and Very Dangerous

Hi,

Every so often I try to take a break from the birds. (Correspondingly, what follows isn't from eBirdseed.com, but rather just from me.)

That being said, take a look at the two screen shots below...

400 2008 debt clock.jpg

400 2012 debt clock 2012-02-15_022841.jpg

Respectively that's where we as a country were in 2008 and now are in 2012 fiscally speaking... (Before anyone wigs out about, "Dubya did this!" or, "Obama did that!" understand that IMHO, both parties are culpable as Hades for this train wreck...)

That being said, what do those numbers mean? Well... A lot... We have taken an economic disaster that began under FDR (Social Security) and, by 2008, parlayed it into a cataclysm. And now, in 2012, it is virtually unspeakable, even by our "most wise" presidential candidates. Here are the facts no one will tell you:

  • Forget about the $15 trillion we call our 'debt'. That's roughly equal to our GDP (see second pic). While that isn't good, it's manageable in a sane world (not DC).
  • No, our 'debt' isn't the 800 pound gorilla... Look to the bottom right of the last photo -- that's $117,606,689,433,710; or $117.6 Ttrillion dollars... Those are our obligations to stuff like Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security, and there's no way to escape those obligations.
  • Of each dollar our federal government spends, $.40 is borrowed. Per day/week, we rack up $4 billion in interest payments alone.
Look, these numbers go on and on and on and on... (Just Google on 'David Walker' and brace yourself.) I'm not saying I know what's going to happen... But I just feel like we're getting into very dangerous monetary territory...

Nervous by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan

If you want to read more about this, google on: '"grand rants" trillion'.


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October 29, 2011

Finished French Lamps and Rebuilding a Torchiere Lamp

Hey,

Quick update... Remember that pair of French lamps we were rehabbing? Well, here's one of them now completed. I've purposely included the patched gaping hole in the bowl to see if you could find it...

finished french lamp_400_IMG_3331.JPG

Anywho, I thought we'd take a break from the birds (a Nor' Easter is headed our way, and the birds have been scarce), and give you a quick rundown on how to rewire a torchiere lamp.

Nowadays, torchiere lamps are popular, and can be quite expensive. But a tight economy doesn't necessarily mean that you can't have one. They're often available at yard sales, 'New to You' thrift shops, flea markets, Craig's List, etc. Just because the electricals are fouled up doesn't mean that all is lost. (In our case, ours had a burnt out, obsolete ballast.) So, in not so many words, here's how to fix one.

Before we get started, a word about safety... If you're one of those 'all thumbs' types, this job might be better left to a more mechanically-inclined friend. Also, no matter what, make sure the lamp is unplugged.

Onward...

First, gather your parts per below... Also, if need be, take notes or pictures to help you remember how to put the thing back together. Once you see the big picture, disassemble carefully. The last thing you want is a glass shade dropping to the floor, etc. You may need wire cutters, but clear away all the old wiring and brace yourself...

parts sized and labled_IMG_3322.JPG

Pick up a lamp kit, but choose carefully to get the one that will fit your needs, is UL listed, has a nice long cord, and comes with instructions. After that, you basically begin by threading the cord up from the base through the body of the tube(s)...

threading wire_400_IMG_3325.JPG

Next, feed the wire through the base of the shade unit. The name of the game is to picture that you're working in an 'exploded view'. You don't want to get parts backwards...

Threading shade_400_IMG_3328.JPG

Here are the wires about to be attached to the base of the socket. There are three tricks here:

  • Make sure you put in an "Underwriter's Knot" (see below) as a stress relief on the cord-to-socket connections
  • Wire the socket per instructions. You most likely will have a polarized plug and cord, so it matters which wire goes to which socket screw
  • When you wrap the copper around the socket screw, do so in a clockwise manner. You want the clockwise tightening of the screw to draw the wire into the screw and not push it out.

Underwriters knot_400_IMG_3329.JPG

finished_resized_IMG_3333.JPG

And that's about it. There are the obvious things like not putting in a 300 watt bulb in a socket rated for 60 watts. (We use a 24 watt cfl which generates the light of a 100 watt incandescent. If that's not enough, we can go as high as a 55 watt cfl which equates to the light produced by a whopping 250 watt incandescent.) All it takes is common sense and a little time.

By those well lit feeders...

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Hint: Google on 'Underwriter's Knot'... There are a ton of detailed explanations online just waiting for your particular installation.


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July 8, 2011

Remedy for Hot Days and a New Addition to our Blog Footer

Hi,

Been a tad uncomfortably warm here -- it's the kind of summer heat that's best suffered in a curtained dark parlor. It could be worse... A friend in Oklahoma says that the daytime temperatures are 100 plus... Anywho, I thought I'd bring back a few memories from the blizzard of '09...

400_Interesting lights and snow from inside_broken mailbox_P1010003.JPG

Funny how selective our recollections are... Back during that storm, I was bemoaning the desertion of warmer, and less slippery days just past. Now I'm cursing possible heat stroke and wishing I could just bundle up. The way we perceive, process, and remember information is subjective indeed... Oh well...

On another note... If you take a look at the footer below, you might notice a new addition: From Princeton: "By Location, Birds and Natural History Books (a global reference)". In general, this can act not only as a direct resource, but also as a sort of portal into the Princeton Publishing site itself. The reason I added this is simple -- I've reviewed five of their books now, and am convinced that Princeton University Press (PUP) is for real. (If you google on: "eBirdseed Princeton" {without the quotes}, you can see my various reviews.) As far as I can tell, PUP has got some pretty serious 'ornithological game' as far as the publishing business goes... Check 'em out.

By the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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June 4, 2011

Folding Wings and Flying the Light Fantastic

Back on September 18, 2010, I talked about crows' ability to fly between narrow trees...

cropped and resized_KEEP_crow flying through trees.JPG

Well, here is a high-speed video of a Goshawk performing even more intricate maneuvers...

Is that amazing or what? But how many times have we watched a chickadee flutter away at a 45° angle or watch a humming fly backwards. And speaking of amazing... Here is one of out titmice taking one of its first flights

flegling_resized_IMG_2787.JPG

Sorry that the pic is so blurry, but you get the idea... The point being that the creature has gone from egg to air in roughly 16 to 17 days... For me, that's absolutely stunning...

Quiet by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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Emergency Preparedness Yet Again...

Hi,

Short post for you tonight... The photo below is from just a few days ago in Springfield MA...

Springfield ok_2011-06-04_011710.jpg

Tornado in Springfield rips through a neighborhood behind an office building, 1 June 2011
Source: Matt Putzel
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Springfield,_MA_Tornado_2011,_June_1.jpg

As has been mentioned here umpteen times, better safe than sorry... So much of the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard have just entered the hurricane season... And Cape Cod is long overdue for a beaut'...

Once again, here is a fantastic, free guide for emergency preparedness... I can't recommend strongly enough that you download, print and follow it to the letter...

Let's have a safe and happy summer... After all, the birds can fly away, but we can't...

By the feeders...

CapeCodAlan

P.S. As always, The American Red Cross is there to help...


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May 14, 2011

Documentary Review: "Ghost Bird"

Hi,

Just watched an interesting documentary by Scott Crocker -- "Ghost Bird". Here's the trailer...

As you can tell by the clip, there are several stories woven into one film. Thoughts...

  • Technically, it's pretty good... The intro is a bit too long, the sound production is uneven, and the entire piece could have been tightened by about 15 to 30 minutes. But all told this is still great work. While this didn't come out of the Cornell Dept. of Ornithology, it did feature interviews with heavyweights such as David Sibley and Scott Edwards (curator of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology).
  • As I see it, the first story is simply that of the bird itself... does it, or does it not still exist? That's a tough question in that some pretty qualified people on both sides of the question are weighing in...
  • Interwoven into the question above are the politics (grant money) involved. From small-town officials to the federal government, everyone has a vested interest.
  • This is also the story of little America (Brinkley, AR) facing tough times. The purported sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been a boon to the local economy just as the 1947 "crash of a UFO" in Roswell has created a rather lucrative cottage industry there.
  • Finally, there is the all-too-human narrative of wishful thinking on the part of the guy on the street, the ornithologists, the business folk, and even the viewer... I mean, wouldn't it be cool if there was final irrefutable proof that somehow, this beautiful creature somehow managed to elude humankind's selfish crush?

Bottom line?" Well... This isn't Ken Burns, but it's pretty high-grade stuff and would be enjoyed by all family members... Most heartedly recommended... If you can get the Documentary Channel (or better yet, buy it)!

By the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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March 29, 2011

Book Review: "The Crossley Guide, Eastern Birds"

resized_cover.JPG

Yes, we have another bird book review... I'll cut right to the chase with some thoughts as I poke around...

  • Right off the bat, I'd say that this is not a field guide. (It measures 7&1/2" by 10" 1&1/4" by 530 pages, and probably weighs two pounds.)
  • The layout ain't "your father's Oldsmobile." Each of the 640 bird plates consists of an assemblage of photographs layered over the birds' natural environment and displaying most of the creatures' sex, development, and flight patterns. While the "photoshopping" isn't perfect, it is plenty good.
  • Just opening the book is a relief. Be honest... How many times have you turned to a bird book and pleaded, "Why can't you just show me the songbirds section?" -or- "All I really want to see are the raptors!"
  • The inside of the flexcover and first page answer your prayers. Beyond that, do yourself a huge favor and read the first 35 pages... All the rest are absolute eye candy.
  • I like the scarcity of words, though the font might challenge older eyes.
  • I can't begin to imagine the kind of time it must have taken to put this piece together. Believe it or not, there are 10,000 pictures rammed into this puppy.
  • For me, this will act as a photographic reference -- that is, I'll take my pix as fate will allow, and turn to this later.
Wrapping this up... I don't know what to say about this work aside from, "Buy it..." I like it... I checked on Amazon, and it gets four and a half stars out of five... Other reviewers like it... The only other observation I might add is this... This is the third Princeton University Press book I've reviewed, (see "Hawks from Every Angle" by Jerry Liguori and "Hawks at a Distance" also by Liguori), and all have been game changers. I hope as technology improves, and e-readers improve, Princeton keeps cutting the edge... This is good stuff.

CapeCodAlan


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March 18, 2011

Book Review: "Hawks at a Distance"

If you're like me, you're forever on the lookout for good bird books, and this time, I've found an absolute ringer...

The kind folks at Princeton University Press sent me a copy of this book for review, and here it is: Buy the book. Period. (Now that was an easy review!)

Kidding aside, this is an absolute "must have" for anyone who has ever even briefly wondered, "What kind of hawk was that?" Here are just a few of the reasons you cannot live without this field guide...

  • The author's approach to hawk identification is both novel and brilliant. Indeed, bird maven David Sibley said of this tome,
    Jerry Liguori's book takes hawk identification to a whole new level.
    The reader can study migratory and location patterns, closeup and distance shots of all 20 species (the 190 pg. book contains a whopping 577 photos, 19 of which are magnificent full-page), black and white shape prints (30 to 40 per bird)... The list of ID options is just right.
  • I love the ease of this thing. If you've looked at other birding books, just the "How to use this book" section can tangle you up in knots; not so with this puppy. This is literally a "crack it open and you have a clue within 60 seconds" reference. I especially like the effort put forth to explain what birds can be confused, and how to sort things out.
  • There's another feature that is long, long overdue IMHO -- the use of bold font to shout out the most important points. Example:
    In glide, Cooper's Hawks look compact, similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, but their heads and tails extend farther, and they show longer, less squared "hands" in comparison.
    Any questions?
  • It is ruggedly bound in a 6 1/8" by 8" footprint and consists of clean, acid-free paper...
About the only possible gripe I can see with this work is that it isn't available in any of those electronic hand-helds such as the iPhone or Android... For me, this is a non-issue... When I see a bird, my immediate focus is photography, not research. Later detective work based on the images is at least half the fun.

When all is said and done, Liguori's "Hawks at a Distance, Identification of Migrant Raptors" is as practical and beautiful as Sibley's "The Sibley Guide to Birds" is thorough and beautiful... If you have even the slightest interest in birds, you should own this book.

Reading by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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March 16, 2011

Radial Arm Saw and American Male Mid-Life Crisis

Hi,

resized_saw with block and tackle_IMG_2349.JPG Before I get started on this most personal of posts, I just wanted to give you this teaser into a very near post... We've got our mitts on a new, superb birding book, and as soon as I can get the copyright/review stuff out of the way, you'll be the first to hear about it. Expect "Sibley-grade" work...

O.K... Down to brass tacks - Take a look at that radial arm saw to the right... Notice how it's connected to the ceiling by a rather hefty block and tackle system? The overt purpose of that contraption is to pull the top off the beast (all 250 lbs worth) and lower it to the floor. But it's not the tool that's the real story... not on your tin type... It's the male psycho-sexual story behind it that's really compelling...

I didn't need that saw. I really didn't. I already own two table saws, a saber saw, a band saw, a sawzall, a chainsaw, umpteen handsaws, a Skil saw, and three Japanese saws. You name it, and I can cut it. So why the attraction to such a monster? I'll tell you why in no uncertain terms - because I'm a classic American male going through mid-life crisis. (Please understand that Freud got it all messed up when he proposed that humans go through five stages... U.S. males only go through two - pre-pubescence and pubescence. Basically, we're babies until we reach the age of 12, and then we hit mid-life and are lust hounds until we stop breathing.) But that lust takes on two different forms depending on the age. In the early years, we yearned for the bunny babes... and if we were lucky we failed. Later it was the more the mechanical - cars, tools, planes, boats, submarines, aircraft carriers... That's it. I don't know of a single normal American male who doesn't follow this pattern. (Oh there are holdouts who try to cling to the concept of chasing young women - we in the head shrinking game call them "deniers"... That's another story.) But as for the purchase of the saw, that's just an expression of the second half of my pubescence. Think I'm kidding? The other night I had a buddy over to look at the behemoth. We must have stood talking and nursing beers around the thing for an hour. He couldn't keep his hands off the curves and lines and movements and substance. Hubba hubba! I promise you, if I had bought a paperweight, he wouldn't have shown any sort of interest whatsoever. See what I mean?

So there... You came here expecting to read about birds and instead were lucky enough to gain rare insight into the male American psyche. Talk about your value-added blog...

See you by those sultry feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Don't forget we've got a review on a "must own" book coming up ASAP!


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February 24, 2011

Carving Design, Part 2

Hi,

Last time we looked at carving simple fish and birds. While this is far from a comprehensive carving course, it should be enough to get you started. Take a look at the torso of my first bird - a hummer, as well as a whimsical fish...

Photobucket

With that, more tips...
  • Unexpected horizontal and vertical lines can be interesting... Note the "scales" on the fish...
  • Curved lines in the form of a circle are usually a no-no. Ellipses, parabolas, and hyperbolas are more pleasing.
  • Use repetition to maintain the "spirit" of the piece. At the same time, don't be afraid to mesh techniques to avoid boredom... Just don't ruin the overall harmony and flow.
  • Keep the work in tune with its environment. (I'm not quite sure how I'll do it, but I want the hummingbird to be "floating" - only attached to the final display by its beak as it drinks from a flower.)
  • Static objects should have a great deal of symmetry, but curves should reflect motion... In the case of the hummer, look at how I've got the rear half trying to adjust for the wind.
  • Don't be afraid to mix mediums... Consider master boatbuilder and modeler Dynamite Payson's "Friendship Skiff"...

    Photobucket
    (Yeah, that really is a model that mixes wood, glass, photography, paint, and metal to create the desire effect. BTW... Should you be interested in buying Mr. Payson's models, contact me; he is no longer making them, and there aren't many left.)
  • Consider colors, perspective, shadow, size, value, and shape...
  • Use all of the above to breath life into your bird/fish/boat model...
Hope you give carving a try... It really isn't all that difficult to make something at least respectable...

Making sawdust by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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February 19, 2011

Weird Bird News

Well, we haven't had this subject in a while...

Believe it or not, the photo below is of a rare Cassowary, an emu-like 140 pound beast native to Australia with 4"+ talons and a bad attitude.

Photobucket

Photo credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

The Telegraph (UK) is reporting that Australians should be cautions around these huge birds:

"Residents of communities around Mission Beach, on the north Queensland coast, which was almost flattened by the category five cyclone earlier this month, have been advised to beware of the 6ft tall birds, which are known to attack if they feel threatened.

"Famed for their long talons - their dagger-like middle claws measure 12cm long - and powerful legs, the birds, which are unique to the rainforests of northern Australia, are said to be able to disembowel humans, dogs and horses with just one kick."

In other words, Aussies should be wary of the Cassowary!

A little too exotic for you? How about a plain old story about an unwanted library patron?

A happy ending for all involved!

Then there's a neat photo series on purple martins and their homes... (O.K... So it's not so weird, but cool nonetheless...)

And don't forget the famous Cornell Backyard Bird Count!

See you by those strange feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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December 25, 2010

Nat, Cam Update, and Turkey Buzz Kill

Hi,

Well, Merry Christmas to you all! (I know that that salutation may not be politically correct for some, but tough!) Here's the great Nat King Cole... (Did you know that he was an exceptional pianist before he became a vocalist? On the keyboard, Nathanial Adams Coles was comfortable with both jazz and classical music.)

Onward...

As I mentioned in the last post, the trick in getting the new cam outdoors is to keep it dry and warm/cool. Here's what I've got so far...

resized_mailbox as cam housing.JPG

No, the main shelter is not a Quonset hut, but instead a mailbox. (And no, we do not receive our snail mail in the mailbox on our deck - that one is reserved for small gardening tools.) Anywho, I hope the drawing speaks for itself, but the idea is to bore two holes in a standard mailbox - one at the end which will be sealed by glass for the cam, and the other in the bottom that will allow a jar-mounted light bulb/fan to keep the thing warm/cool. I'm still mulling over the wiring and mounting details, though those don't worry me terribly... The other option is to simply buy an outdoor security camera housing; that too would bring the project in on budget. Hmmm... For a sneak peek of the indoors experimental version, go here to see the live streaming video in action. (Sorry about the commercials - understandably, UStream has to find a way to make money.)

Lastly, there comes those buzz kill turkeys... Jeez Louise, just when you have the backyard just a little tamed, the turkeys discover how to perch on top of the feeder and raid it to oblivion...

resized_turkey on feeder ustream_2010-12-25_105550.jpg

And here's a clearer shot...

good resized Turkey on top of feeder_IMG_1683.JPG

Geez... I wonder what's for Christmas dinner???

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. the "Word Search Contest" is now closed... Harry, we'll think of something... More on that later...


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December 18, 2010

Rare Audubon Book Sells for $10 million... And a Gripe

Hi,

Check it out... (Sorry for the commercial in the beginning...)

Remarkable isn't it? (I told you I like old bird books!) But I do have one gripe, and it's a deeply personal one. (Read that, "Don't blame eBirdseed.com for what follows...")

My problem is that Audubon was a hunter who killed birds to make his paintings. Sorry, but for me, that's just wrong. (Before you jump ugly on my "Pacifist Side", understand that I'm a life member of the NRA - I'm not exactly "buddy buddy" with Code Pink.) Still, I just don't understand the satisfaction/enjoyment/glee/thrill/reverence in killing... From Monty Python:

Bevis: I always preferred the outdoor life... hunting... shooting... fishing... getting out there with a gun and slaughtering a few of God's creatures... Charging about the moorland, blasting their heads off.

In my not-so-humble opinion, killing should only occur for two reasons: survival and food. (And if we have to kill a million lab rats to save one child, so be it.) As for food... There are some of us (myself included) who digest meat better than veggies - sorry Porky. But no matter what, death is a bitter process, and I simply don't understand those who happily partake in the name of "Sport", or "Art", which takes us right back to Audubon...

I'd better quit now or I'll be looking for a soapbox and ticking off everyone in sight. My point is, "Don't kill unless you have to, and don't feel particularly grand about it afterwards. Needless dead beauty in every way shape and form isn't all that damnably profound."

See you by the feeders if you're still reading this,

CapeCodAlan

Time is running out on that contest!


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December 5, 2010

Designing Another Streaming Cam System

Hi,

Last time we talked, I had just brought down our "old faithful" streaming backyard webcam... Increased security measurements on my end (not eBirdseed.com's) unfortunately required that I take the poor thing offline. So now what?

Well... Glad you asked! For some time now, I've been talking about bringing this vid down, and starting anew. And here we are... Before we get started, a word about major projects in general (let alone establishing a new live video feed 24X7...) Take it from a well-tempered engineer and boatbuilder - look at the big picture first and then dwell down into the details while at the same time not losing sight of the persnickety gotcha's that crop up along the way. That being said, I like to hand-draw a rough outline just as a starting point...

first flowchart_400.JPG

That doesn't look so bad... The signal comes off the camera, passes through a buried "active" USB cable (to bust the 16' limitation), is absorbed by the kitchen PC, which then passes it on via our network to the router and ultimately our cable modem and the fog of the Web. What could go wrong? The next thing you know, you'll be watching our backyard birds live. Anywho, that's the "Big Picture", and it seems basically sound right now. But... There are other considerations... Here are the preliminaries without getting too tangled in the "persnicketies":

  • Cost...
  • What equipment will be required? (The new stuff is truly remarkable!)
  • How to bury a cable...
  • And then there's the matter of wind rain and snow...
  • The stream should have some degree of mobility...
  • And finally who will we use to host this puppy?
Yes, I've looked at all of those, and have some ideas... But that's for next time...

'Til then, see you by the feeders Cecil B...

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Did I ever tell you about our word search contest???


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December 4, 2010

Blog is Back, but the eBirdseed Streaming Cam is Not... Future Projects

Hi,

They say a picture tells a thousand words. The next two probably say more.

FINAL_RIP_cropped_IMG_1571_400.JPG

and

FINAL_final ebirdeed cam view count.jpg

You probably can't read the number in the lower Camstreams shot, but it shows that our little live cam had 29,260 views in its 2+ year lifespan. There was a lot of innocent, free fun there. But no more. Last week, CapeCodAlan (not eBirdseed.com) got slammed with some sort of email virus or worm. To make an excruciatingly long story short, all my email contacts were spammed and my Internet connectivity was cooked. (The fact that my ISP, Comcast crashed, at the same time may or may not have played a role in this.) As a result, I've had to torque up my AV and firewall settings to new heights which unfortunately croaks the cam. Deep sigh... I really don't know what to say about this... How do you speak to the subject of gutless weasels who raid other people's mailboxes... who have no more professional acumen than to pilfer innocents' IDs. Sad, sad, sad...

But life goes on... Here's is the top of the hutch as it stands now. (The clamps and sticks are securing the quarter-round molding to the upper inner back of the carcase while the glue dries...)

spring boards_400_IMG_1574.JPG

And then there's the infamous mailbox birdhouse(s). Finally, rest assured that another (and better) streaming cam will soon be coming to a blog near you. :)

See you by the resilient feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. I'm telling you, there's a contest just waiting for a winner...


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November 30, 2010

Heidegger's Crow Feeder

Hi,

About four bazillion years ago, I was an all too brief philosophy major. (I made it through the 19th century, then slammed into Sartre et al and went sniveling back to the university registrar to change my major.) But one thing that did stick (I think), was Heidegger's ideas on the philosophy of thought (epistemology). I believe it was in his book, "Being and Time" that he suggested that for any given issue or problem, the essence of thinking is the stripping away of the esoteric, convenient, comfortable, and instead grappling with the most intrinsic - i.e. not what we want to think, or even what we believe should be thought, but rather what is most "think-worthy"*.

Still awake? Wow... Anywho... It's with that om wafting in the back, that I approach the "right now" problem of seagulls raiding the crow feeder (or any danged feeder they can get to for that matter.) This has to stop. Where the crows peacefully co-exist with, and even protect the smaller birds, the gulls are simply bulldozers. So how to stop them? Everything from a flying comfy pillow to starvation has crossed our minds, but I think Heidegger nailed it... What is unique about crows and seagulls and what is different? Well, crows are smaller, they have oscine feet (great for perching), and are highly intelligent. Gulls are huge, have larus (webbed) feet, and quite frankly aren't all that bright. So how about this??? A smaller feeder that crows can still use, surrounded by a perch wire, and if need be, only accessible by a foot trigger or "key". (No "key push" means the door doesn't open and the food remains inaccessible.)

rough drawing.JPG

It would be a relatively easy build, and would give the gulls fits... On the other hand, if the seagulls watch the crows, and learn how to balance and use the "key" to open the feeder door, they may be closer to Heidegger than I thought... Hmmm...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

* And what did Martin think was the most "thought-worthy" subject for humanity??? He suggested that the fact that we're still not thinking takes the prize.

P.S... Contest still open...


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November 28, 2010

Changing Dynamic in the Backyard

Hi,

Some time ago, one of our readers asked that I (we) spend more time exploring bird behavior, and I think we've taken a fair shot at that request. But something is starting to happen that just gives me the creeps (again...) Lately, whenever we put out food for the crows, the seagulls have shown up, chased off the crows, and simply ravaged the feeders. Here's an old photo that shows the sheer size of the brutes...

resized_P1010011.JPG

Size wise, they make a corvid look insignificant...

But here's where it all gets truly freaky. Mrs. CCA pointed out that so long as the crows put a cease and desist on their "feed me" cacophony, the gulls pay no attention, and the tray remains unmolested. Pretty clever on the part of the crows, no? Now stop and think about it for a moment... If the crows can't call, how will they tell me that they're hungry? Very simple... They've taken to either knocking on the front door, or swooping by the windows. (I couldn't make this stuff if I tried.)

I'm not sure whether I'm flattered, being manipulated, being initiated, or just warming up for the Alcoa head gear. (Thank heavens that Mrs. CCA has seen most of this behavior... At least if I have to break out the ol' aluminum foil hat, I'll have to do it in the plural.)

Really, I'm at a loss... Who is really pulling the strings here? Where most backyard birders become emotionally attached to their "flock", I've become intellectually engaged with my fellow murder members... Who knows what's next?

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. You know... We have this contest...


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November 17, 2010

Strangeness of Backyard and Existence

turkey_resized_2010-11-17_151842.jpg

Well, the photo above (from our streaming eBirdseed.com bird cam) sure isn't the stuff of National Geographic. We've got a bunch of wet leaves, some turkeys roaming around, and the cam itself. What's so strange you ask? Here are just three things:

  • Water: Not only is this stuff the stuff of us and two-thirds of the surface of this planet, it also has one weird feature - when it freezes, it floats. (Only bismuth behaves in a similar fashion.) But what that means for earth probably boils down (pun) to the existence of life as we know it. Imagine every temperate pond bottom being frozen to death every winter.
  • Gravity: Talk about freaky... Why is it that a huge hunk of space rock is attracted to a turkey's mass? Worse yet, the big rock actually pushes the bird away when the gobbler pushes terra firma. (Yes, I had to study Newtonian physics, quantum mechanics, and even warped space-time, and I'm still ragingly clueless. Just because a person passes a bunch of tests doesn't mean that he or she can actually wrap his or her mind around a concept. I'm still struggling with the all important -1.)
  • Electricity and Magnetism: Without "EMag", none of this would be possible. And I do mean none of it. No light, no atoms... Nothing...
Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know I tossed in water and left out the strong and weak forces. Tough.

But the point being is that from a purely scientific point of view, the backyard is magnificent. Toss in sublime beauty, and I dare say we nudge the religious miraculous. I know I've mentioned this 1923 poem before, but here is William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow"...

so much depends upon
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens.

Mesmerized by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

Don't forget the word search contest!


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November 12, 2010

Bald Headed Blue Jay, Molting, and Lamp Restoration

Hi

Well, you don't see this every day...

resized_bald Jay_03.JPG

I was poking through some old pics, and found the one above from August of 2007. It turns out that a few rare birds (mostly jays and cardinals) molt their head feathers all at once. This usually occurs in late summer, and (obviously) can be quite dramatic. Other possible causes for this include mites or poor diet, though given the otherwise healthy condition of this guy, I'd guess that he's just molting in his "own peculiar way" (apologies to Willie Nelson). Check out Ben Burtt's piece on molting...

Here's a turkey who looks like he's losing a feather, but...

front shot of turkey with beard_resized_IMG_1229.JPG

And from another angle...

side shot of turkey with beard_resized_IMG_1228.JPG

The aforementioned "but..." refers to the fact that the turkey isn't losing a feather at all, but instead sporting a "beard". (I kid you not.) Look it up... Here are a couple of good references for turkey info:

Finally, a photo of some work we're doing on a pair of 1930's era lamps. They were in pretty tough shape (note the earlier barbarism in the pedestal retrofit and the cracked base.) Still, these lights will shine anew. I'm going to epoxy in a pair of curved veneer backer strips in the pedestal, (one is visible in the shot below) and then Bondo the gaping hole shut and smooth. After that, I'll simply drill a new hole for the twist on/off switch, stuff the cracks with epoxy, re-wire, paint, gild, stencil, and poof! Classic lights...

base with mangled ped_resized_IMG_1414.JPG

Never a dull moment by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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November 4, 2010

Turkey Attack!

Yeah, go ahead and yuck it up... Well, it isn't funny. (See this NPR piece.) After all, these are large birds.

pack of turkeys resized_IMG_1214.JPG

Here's what happened... I went out to put some old bread on the crow tray and was greeted by six turkeys. Being always prepared, I carried the oft mentioned "Comfy Cushion of Doom" - a simple lawn chair cushion I've used in the past to scare the things away. Not so much today... They simply circled me and then tried to implement a "peck-and-run" strategy. As soon as I would fend off one, another would go for my flank. (Do you remember the velociraptors in the movie "Jurassic Park?) As I said before, this is not funny. I was surrounded by six, belligerent, 20lb animals with five foot wingspans, each with a brain the size of a raisin. True, after a few charges, they decided to move on, but they made a fair attempt at ruining my day.

Upshot? The wife and I will still walk around our property in safety... anytime we want. Period. We'll do our very best to convince animals that we're the benevolent alphas, but one way or the other, we will remain the alphas. If the turkeys lose their fear of the cushions, then I'll move on to Frisbees. And if they still want to attack, there's always the garden hose or worse.

Not fooling around by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Don't forget the word search contest! A feeder would make a fine gift!


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November 1, 2010

Buzz Kill

Hi,

Sorry about my lack of post over the last few days - the attempted bombing kind of knocked me for a loop... I was going to write about the effects of digital photography on the masses and how those effects reverberate throughout the art world. Heck... I even had a semi-respectable picture...

resized with nut_DSC_0076.JPG

But the near-miss terrorist attack put me off my feed... (Here's the deal, I have a background in engineering, technology, and weaponry - I won't go into the details because it would bore you to tears, but I know what I'm talking about.) Bluntly, Friday's failed attempt(s) were too derned close... The explosive du jour was PETN - one of the world's most powerful... The big question is, "What will happen when fanatics and flat-out loons keep acquiring the ever-advancing and ever-more-ubiquitous technologies?"

I wish I had an answer for you, or had more to say, but I really don't. I do though have a few rhetorical questions:

  • Do we really believe Aum Shinrikyo, Jonestown, and 9/11 are the end or even the worst?
  • It's 11/2/10... Do our politicians understand what we're really facing?
  • Has the world seen its last mushroom cloud and if not will the nuke be fired in anger or by mistake, and by whom?
Told you that this would be a buzz kill. But last Friday we got extraordinarily lucky (as we did with the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber...) How much longer will our luck hold out?

Sometimes there are events that push birding to background.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. On a happier note, there's always our word search contest...

P.P.S. This just in... Four mail bombs explode in Greece.


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October 25, 2010

About Them Crows

Hi,

Why here's one now...

Resized_crow_on_ground_3.JPG

Longtime reader Harry, "Gipper" Morris offered the following comment:

"Weird or by coincidence?

PBS, Public TV on the Nature program last night, had a documentary on the intelligence of Crows, titled "A Murder of Crows". The best one I've seen so far.
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/

A Must See."

Harry, I did indeed see that piece... Exceptional work, though I believe the makers were a bit off the mark or short on several points:

  • When it comes to using roadways and street lights to crack open nuts, it appears that the birds do in fact situate the drops such that cars will in fact crack the nuts, and then wait for the red light to get to the goodies. (See our Oct. 13, 2007 post.)
  • There are now indications that crows may not just talk amongst themselves. I can't count the number of times that I've watched jays scatter seed for waiting crows or witnessed crows and jays fighting off a hawk. There's just too much coordination there... and where there's coordination, there is at least rudimentary communication.
  • And speaking of talking... Did you know that crows can talk? If captured in early development, crows can talk just as parrots do. (BTW... There is a horrible myth that crows can only enunciate with a split tongue - that's hogwash! The creatures just have to have human contact at a very young age.)
  • As far as I know, crows are the only animals (outside of us) who can make tools with non-native materials. (See link above.) If this means what I think it means, we're probably looking at an IQ of about 7 years old in human terms.
  • I don't think the PBS show went far enough concerning the social nature of the corvids. I once watched a crow window hit and the aftermath... The survivors were almost frantic. Their loyalty was stunning.
  • I wish PBS had explored the physiology of the crow brain. (See link above.) It's fascinating that corvids and higher primates develop similar social structures given significantly different brain structures. Is it possible that Mr. Darwin can sing in harmony?
  • Finally, IMHO, PBS dropped the ball Big Time as to the ramifications of how we treat crows. Are we shooting and poisoning creatures with the mind of a developing child and the loyalty of a golden retriever? Seriously, this is a whopping philosophical dilemma.
But all said and done, Harry is right... "A Murder of Crows" is a must see...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Is our word search contest too hard???


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October 21, 2010

Juan Williams

Hi,

Rarely do I stray from the topic of birds, but tonight, I am going to. Earlier today, National Public Radio (NPR) fired long time contributor Juan Williams...

Juan_2010-10-21_224505.jpg

Photo: Pete Wright

I'll keep this short and on-topic... eBirdseed.com has always shown me considerable leeway when it comes to subject matter. I've always had pretty much free reign when it comes to content and images. So long as I didn't claim that the President was in fact an Idaho potato or display adult pics, my bosses have let me go. And that's how it should be. I get paid to write, tell the truth, and hopefully bring in a breath of common sense. I've talked about death, God, and economic disaster with nary the word, "Boo!" from the folks above. Not so for Juan; he got the boot.

Does the Juan Williams story have any place on a bird seed blog? You'd better believe it does. It really doesn't matter whether you write about birds or The Beltway (and I write about both.) The moment the "Powers At Be" shut you off because they don't like the truthful, high-quality content of your work is the moment that we have real problems...

Who on earth would ever have guessed that a birdseed company's "editorial management staff" would inadvertently (and oh so insignificantly) stand as mentor for NPR? Wow... Just wow...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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October 1, 2010

The World's Most Uncooperative Chickadee Pics - A Cautionary Tale

First, here they are... Three of the world's most uncooperative chickadee pics... More about that cautionary stuff in a bit...

Nice_chickadee_resized_IMG_1101.JPG

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Not bad, if I do say so myself... I've learned to mess with settings like "Sports" (fast shutter), manual focus, "Portrait", and "Macro". So far, the camera hasn't exploded, so I must be doing something right. On to the words of warnings...

Truth be told, there probably is only one word of warning - "Backup!" Here's what happened...

  1. I took the photographs above as usual, and after looking at them on the computer, promptly deleted the ones I really wanted right off the SD chip.
  2. As Windows XP doesn't support saving deleted files in the Recycle Bin when those files are wiped off a removable drive, a third-party app was called for. Unfortunately, trying to find a decent (and free) undelete program can be tricky, but I did finally find a winner.
  3. Too bad that my machine (not eBirdseed's) blue screened on me not once or twice, but three times within minutes. (For the geeks amongst you, I was getting a STOP 0x7F - most likely a memory stick issue.) That of course demanded an immediate backup, which is no mean feat when the PC keeps crashing.
  4. Alrighty then... The story to this point boils down as follows... I couldn't write this post because I couldn't get to the photos I needed because I accidently deleted them. However, I couldn't undelete them because I needed a freeware application that I couldn't use because my system had become unstable. And before anything could go forward, a thorough backup was called for on a system that kept failing.
    Welcome to my world.
  5. Ahhh... But this grizzled old tech/engineer had one last trick up his sleeve - take an external house fan, point it at the back of the hobbled computer, and let it cool down those failing memory sticks. And what do you know? It worked.

So all that was left to do was to perform a good backup, install and use the undelete software, edit and embed the images above, and then try to decide what caliber of bullet I was going to use to shatter the faulty memory sticks. Someone ought to sell tickets.

See you by those Daedalean feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Our word search puzzle goes unsolved...


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September 30, 2010

Nicole and Gliese581g

Time for a "Birdie Break". (When was the last time we had a feather time out???)

It looks like we've got more bad weather coming our way. Tropical storm Nicole is moving up the East Coast and there seems to be a potential of up to 10in. of rain here on the Cape. Oh goody. Here's a snapshot (thanks to weather.com) as of midnight Thursday that can shed some light on the situation. Yup, that green blob of rain is just meandering up the eastern seaboard.

rain_resized.jpg

And here's another image of the possible flooding ranges.

rain chart_resized.jpg

Like I said... Oh goody.

As always we hope that you are prepared for an emergency.

On to a more cheerful subject... Reports indicate that astronomers have found a possibly inhabitable planet - Gliese 581g. The planet is only a scant twenty light years away from us. And that means that if we decide to go there and poke around, we'll only have to spend the next 66,780 years cruising along at 20,000mph to get there. Still, who knows what we might find? (It's tough to wrap our minds around this because IMHO we're all soaked in the "wink and the nod" of sci fi and the Area 51 crowd.) Seriously, think about it from a somber biologist's point of view. Think about the stunning diversity of life on earth and then use that as a backdrop for what else might be (or might have been, or might yet to be) out there. Just imagine (if by some freakish miracle of technology) we discover squirrels on good old Gliese 581g... The philosophical/theological implications would be mind numbing - earth life is not a singular freak of the universe. I for one would love to meet E.T, even if he was just a bit of microbial wiggly. Quite honestly, I wouldn't feel so lonely in an existentialism sort of way... The following video speaks volumes.

Trying to stay dry and wondering by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan

And what of that word search contest?


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September 18, 2010

Crow Flying in Small Quarters

Hi,

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I was trying to get a photo of a crow flying between two closely-situated trees. At the time, I had one of those, "I could have sworn that I got the shot!" moments. (And well I should have - I stood there next to the tripod for what seemed an eternity.) Anywho, when all was said and done, the image pulled a "D.B. Cooper" on me and disappeared... until now.

cropped and resized_KEEP_crow flying through trees.JPG

While the photograph is far from ideal, you should see my point. The crow has just flown through the narrow gap between those two trees and still has his wings drawn towards his body. It's tough to tell if the bird is on his first or second flap after the maneuver, but he clearly hasn't established the flat-wing, flat trajectory stroke that crows are known for. If I had to guess, I'd say he lost about 12" of altitude.

Why crows take such aeronautical risks is beyond me. He just as easily could have flown around the stand and been on his way. But if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it might be a matter of expediency, or perhaps a form of play. The latter explanation has real possibilities... We know that the corvids are highly intelligent, and that play is important to animals, even birds. (That last hyperlink is a must read if you're at all interested in bird behavior.) Then again, maybe the creatures are simply thrill seekers or show offs. Who knows... But they are a lot of fun to watch.

See you by those daring feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. We still have a word search puzzle contest waiting for a winner...


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August 20, 2010

Little Bird Books, Copyright Laws, and the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

As you may have heard (at least if you read this blog), Mrs. CCA likes to hit the yard sales and estate sales. Today was no exception. She headed out early and brought back a couple pieces of pottery along with a couple quaint little 5½" by 3½" 50- to 100-pg. books...

red and blue books_400_IMG_0532.JPG

They're nothing hugely special - 1931 and 1941 editions by Frank G. Ashbrook. Still, cute nonetheless. Here's a couple of pages that discuss/illustrate the Red-winged Blackbird... (EDIT: Below is where I initially placed a couple of cute pages... But whoops! Upon further examination of copyright laws, you'll have to buy the books to see the pages. For a very nice explanation of book copyright law and a link into the copyright renewal database, click here.) Anywho, I don't think David Sibley needs to be worried, but still the tiny tomes are fun.

Also, it's interesting to note that a name and address was in one of the books, and a bit of research tracked that person from Attleboro MA, right back to Cape Cod, less than 3 miles from where I sit at this moment. It's no great surprise really, but it still does ring of "The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon".

Having fun by those legal feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 4, 2010

Crow Behavior

Hi all,

I took the following three photos of a crow landing simply because the act is so amazing. (Also, I've discovered the auto-fire mode of the camera in the "Sports" setting. How did I live without it?)

417_landing_1_of_3_IMG_0431.JPG

417_landing_2_of_3_IMG_0432.JPG

417_landing_3_of_3_IMG_0433.JPG

Lightness aside, I've finally come to a very serious realization - the crows, Mrs. CapeCodAlan, and I have entered into some sort of relationship. It's difficult to explain, but there is clearly communication between us, recognition between individuals (bird and humans)... I know their feeding cycles, and they know my work patterns. They know what side of the house to harangue depending on the time of day and I know where to place their food. There is something symbiotic going on here... something give-and-take. (And don't give me hooey about me being an "Alcoa Hat". Just search this site for "UFO". I'm not very kind when it comes to conspiracy theories.) Here are the facts:

  • We know crows are highly intelligent animals
  • . Given their ability to manufacturer tools outside of their natural habitat (Something that no primate save humans can do, they might rival the great apes. Considering "Koko" that would arguably put the crow on equal intellectual footing with a small child. Cleverness? Who knows...
  • Crows have an extraordinary sense of group or "murder". I remember a window hit by a crow; his compadres simply would not leave the body. It was a sad and noble thing.
  • Crows remember individuals. Oh goody.
  • Corvids learn from each other. (See above... Oh goody2.)
  • When one learns, most learn just by observation.
So here we are. We've got a bunch of intelligent birds who know us, and we know them... perhaps too well. I have no idea where we fit into their social order, and quite frankly, I'm not even sure as to where they fit into ours. This is all becoming too Hitchcockian for me.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Don't forget our video contest!


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August 2, 2010

Flight of the Osprey

Well...

The wife says that these are two first-year ospreys playing and learning to dive and hunt. I truly have no clue. All I do know is that Mrs. CCA photographed them above dry land in N. Harwich, MA., on 7/31/10.

claws and bent wings_IMG_0315.JPG

Bent wings_IMG_0329.JPG

Wow... Just wow... Look at the deformation of the wings. (And no, these shots have not been Photoshopped.) Is that freaky or what? Now take a good look at the top picture... That weird bump is a function of the "Wing Wrist"... You can see it perform in this following series of images from the same day and same place during a dive sequence:

osprey starts dive_1_resized_IMG_0336.JPG

osprey starts dive_2_resized_IMG_0337.JPG

osprey starts dive_3_resized_IMG_0338.JPG

osprey starts dive_4_resized_IMG_0339.JPG

osprey starts dive_5_resized_IMG_0340.JPG

osprey starts dive_6_resized_IMG_0341.JPG

I apologize for all the images, but this was just too compelling... When time permits, I'll mount these up on our eBirdseed.com photo library for all to enjoy. In the mean time, holler if you don't see the pics you want, and don't forget our bird video contest!

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 19, 2010

Reasons to be Careful Out There

Hi all,

Sorry to gross you out, but...

mystery bug_resized.jpg

Uhhh... Yeah. That is the microscopic shot I took of Lord Only Knows what Toby (our Ragdoll cat) managed to find... My hunch is that this is something I tromped in after working out in the yard. It's probably 3/16" long and quite frankly indistinct save a wary eye.

I bring this to your attention because this is the summer, and we all like to be out playing Frisbee and frolicking in the grass and whatnot. Without proper attention to wee beasties (like ticks, etc.), the good times could stop rolling pronto. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to cooking. (Imagine if that little hairy speck above got into your sala... Nevermind.)

Anywho, you get the idea, and I'd just as soon log off right now... But with one final thought... I've done quite a bit of landscaping, and no doubt disturbed much more than my fair share of monster arachnids... Last night I stumbled upon one in the narrow staircase that leads into the shop basement. If it wasn't a brown recluse, it was the big brother of its bodyguard. By the time I found the bug spray, it was gone. So now we have a potentially poisonous spider the size of a '55 Buick Roadmaster roaming the shadows of my workspace and beyond. Oh goody. One thing is for sure, he and his ilk are toast. (I have a friend here on the Cape who was bitten on the arm by a brown recluse, and has the divot to prove it.) As I said, he and his ilk are toast.

Sooo... My heartfelt advice is this - get out there and enjoy the season. Enjoy the birds and the feeders, and the BBQ, and all the rest... But just be careful out there...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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June 29, 2010

Squirrels and Old Books/Prints

Hi all,

First things first... Faithful reader "Gipper" Morris asked about the use of hot pepper in repelling squirrels... To answer you directly Harry, no I haven't actually tried hot pepper as a squirrel repellent. As we do sell hot pepper suet plugs, I assume that they do work. As for plain old hot pepper, I've never tried to use that to drive off the "gray menace", but, as an experiment, I just sprinkled a heaping helping of "Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning" on the 4X4 post that holds one of our feeders... (Even though we use a metal conical anti-squirrel shield, the rascals still try to rob the birds!) So let's see what happens... If they have the intestinal fortitude to go near the 4X4, they'd better bring both their gastroenterologist and their cardiologist - Tony Chachere's two main ingredients are red pepper and salt. I'll let you know ASAP if the squirrels try their normal futile raids (or if the 4X4 is even there in the coming days).

But on to another subject that hasn't gotten nearly the attention that (IMHO) it should have... That of free or nearly free bird pics and info... Take a look at just one more plate I got out of an old 1916 bird book:

Northern Pileated woodpecker.JPG

Those are Northern Pileated Woodpeckers... But the real point I'm trying to make is that the book cost virtually nothing... There are no doubt tens of thousands of like tomes out there with great artwork, great descriptions, and a sub-dollar price tag. (I was going to say that I'd bet that I could sell the plates alone and make more than a few bucks... But I couldn't do that - this beauty belongs in our home.)

Anywho... There you go - repelling squirrels and fantastic bird prints... Only on eBirdseed.com...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Should you want any hi-res copies of old pics (copyright expired), just let me know... I'll be more than happy to scan and email to you or add to our eBirdseed.com photo library.


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June 26, 2010

Suet and the Hummingbird Feeder

Alrighty then... Enough disaster and global economics! Back to the birds...

A question came up concerning types of suet. First, quite frankly, our birds are none too particular. So long as the stuff contains rendered fat, they're pretty happy. (We were strict in the upbringing of our flocks... If they didn't eat all their suet, they didn't get any dessert.) That being said, some birds can get fussy. Looks like this would be a good place for a graphical summary...

Click here to view the suet selection chart

And let's not forget the seed charts...

Click here to view the single-seed chart

Click here to view the mixed-seed chart

(Obviously, peanutbutter is popular with the masses.) Two other thoughts concerning suet... First, crows like to steal the suet, cage and all. (We've lost two baskets; sturdy cable ties are a good thing.) And secondly, I've experimented with "poly wood" and perch locations. Smooth poly wood won't give birds like crows a place to secure their footing before they pillage the suet... In our case, we found something similar to our "Mealworm Feeder" and used that... Crows just can't get a good purchase on the plastic.

Now, about that hummingbird feeder... Just take a gander at a screen shot!

humm 10_good_resized.jpg

The hummers were out today... We simply quit after nine print screens. At best guess we got a visit every 10 minutes or so. (Remember, you can watch too using the cam link above or below.) Not bad... Not bad at all...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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June 18, 2010

More on Free Bird Books

Hi all,

Back on April 20, 2010, I wrote about the "Gutenberg Project"... We hope you've had a chance to check it out. Well, the GP isn't the only free library in town. Take a gander below...

bird_leg_2010-06-18_181823.jpg

This is from the 550pp, "Natural History of Birds" tome by Leonard W. Wing. (Published circa 1956 and available from www.bookyards.com.) True, the work is dated, but there's a whale of a lot of info in there. And then there is this from Manybooks.com... "Bird Neighbors, An Introductory Acquaintance With One Hundred and Fifty Birds Commonly Found in the Gardens, Meadows, and Woods About Our Homes".

BIRDS OF LOW TREES OR LOWER PARTS OF TREES Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, the Sparrows, the Thrushes, the Grosbeaks, Goldfinch, Summer Yellowbird and other Warblers; the Wrens, Bluebird, Mocking-bird, Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Maryland Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat.

BIRDS OF TREE-TRUNKS AND LARGE LIMBS Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Woodpecker, Flicker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-and-white Creeping Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Pine Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Whippoorwill, Nighthawk.

And that's just a section devoted to the habitats of birds. There's also seasons of birds, birds grouped according to size, descriptions of birds, etc. Again... Very nice and very free.

But perhaps the coolest find of the day was this collection of freebie libraries... Granted, some of the search engines are kludgey at best, and some of the sites are dedicated to specific topics... But with some patience, the world is your oyster so to speak...

See you in virtual Alexandria,

CapeCodAlan


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June 8, 2010

Reply to "The Gipper", and a Raffle to Help the Gulf

Hi all,

In response to the wife's entry, "Wild Turkeys 2.0, Son(s) of"". Long-time (and much appreciated) reader and commenter Harry "Gipper" Morris left the following thoughts on that post...

Good story; good pics. LOL I put out my first Suet Cake yesterday to see if it would attract different birds. Today, the first one to explore it was one of my four squirrels. He only smelled it, then went on to the Sunflower seed set aside just for squirrels. Later today, the first bird to approach it was a Common Grackle who gingerly ate it, then went immediately to the Bird Bath and drank water. 5 minutes later, the squirrel came back, smelled it, looked at me as if to say, "If its OK with the Grackle, its OK with me", and began to nibble away. Pretty interesting. Who's next? Cheers, Harry "Gipper" Morris

My reply follows...

Funny about what animals will eat, won't eat, and how they'll change their minds. They clearly can be covetous. I know that you're not a big fan of crows Harry, but I am for this reason... I've done a lot of research on crows, and I'm firmly convinced that crows are the most intelligent non-humans on earth. Their ability to solve non-natural problems with non-natural materials is, for want of a better term, "eerie..."

But beyond all that, they have their own language and social patterns, and that seems to extend beyond their own species. This may sound crazy, but I think I'm beginning to understand just a few of their calls and gestures. For instance, a "crow alarm" (hawk in the area) is undeniable. Their calls for food are quite distinct. The corvids' need for eye contact and facial recognition is undeniable. And their protection of their "turf" is nothing short of gallant.

So Harry, to answer your question, the "Who's next" will be more of a focus on the crow... I will only add a couple of caveats... First, crows (like squirrels) need their own feeders. They are wild animals, and will in turn eat virtually anything when hungry. (It's interesting that in our yard, the crows, squirrels, and smaller birds intermingle. In fact, the crows go to great lengths to secure the area from cats, foxes, coyotes, hawks, etc.) The second caveat has to do with how much I'll interact with the birds. In my book, wild animals should always fear humans. IMHO, to make a "pet" out of a wild creature is to put a bull's eye on its chest.

Now... About that raffle. Short and sweet,.. the New Orleans Saints have decided to raffle off one of their Super Bowl rings with the proceeds going to help out the Gulf Coast oil spill region. Read more here. Now I'm not a huge football fan, but is that cool or what???

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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May 25, 2010

Oil Update

Bird in oil resized_2010-05-25_152516.jpg To be clear, I did not take the photo above. The caption reads:

(A young heron sits dying amidst oil splattering underneath mangrove on an island impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Barataria Bay, along the the coast of Louisiana on Sunday, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert))

Well gang, in a way, the photo above speaks volumes. (You can see the complete collection here: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/05/oil_reaches_louisiana_shores.html#photo5). But in another way much has gone unspoken. Thoughts...

  • The oil spill is now the size of Maryland and Delaware combined..
  • The gusher 5,000' down just started spewing a much heavier, darker oil. (Check out the BP spill cam.)
  • The dispersant being used, "Corexit" looks to be toxic. What's more, Corexit works by breaking the oil up (not removing it), and allowing it to sink. The idea is that the process will make the oil more biodegradable... But there is one problem... BP is applying the dispersant right at the source... Who knows just how biodegradable this goo will be in the blackness and cold of a mile deep?
  • Now there are rumors that something very, very bad is happening around the blowout preventer.
  • The White House is playing a cute game. On the one hand, EPA chief Carol Browner says that "We're In charge". On the other hand, the President's spokesman has made it abundantly clear that the operation is BP's "responsibility". If today's "top kill" stops the flow and a successful cleanup follows, the Administration is a hero. On the other hand, if that fails and the flow goes unabated until a relief well is completed at the end of the summer, it's all BP's fault... Cute. The simple fact is that as soon as we understood the magnitude of this horror, we should have applied the full force of the American military guided by the appropriate engineers. Our complete military effort could have brought to bear:
    • command and control
    • communication
    • raw man power
    • transportation
    • maintenance
    • on site 24/7 food and medical care
    The list goes on and on...

  • Few dare to ponder the worst-case scenario - the world's most damaging oil spill, unchecked in one of the world's most delicate ecosystems smack dab in the start of hurricane season. In the worst case, we may be talking about the Exxon Valdez times 10, 100... This could easily turn into a global ecological and financial disaster in a world that really doesn't need any more disasters.
I'm sorry to keep hammering at this, but I believe it's that important. If Lady Luck looks the other way, much of the Eastern Seaboard may soon be rendered impotent. We may well be facing a catastrophe the likes of which this Republic has never seen.

Holding my breath by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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April 21, 2010

Night Coyote, Clever Crow, and Woodshop Layout

Hi all,

First off, check out the eBirdseed.com cam screen shot I got of a coyote last night.

COYOTE_resized_FINAL_2010-04-21_024951.jpg

It may not look like much, but it's still fun to look up and realize that there's a visitor out there. If you're not familiar with Backyard Night Fishing, here's the link. (Oops! We just had a possum wander through... Very cool.) Every so often we'll have an owl or maybe a bat swoop by. Of course, it moves too quickly to "Print Screen" but it's still a hoot if you know what I mean. Then there's the occasional mouse or skunk...

Onward...

I told you that crows were smart! Check out the Caledonia Crow video inside this BBC piece. I don't know about you, but in a strange way, that vid just gives me the creeps. (Back in 1974, a strange, slow-moving sci-fi movie named "Phase IV" was released. The basic premise was that for some reason desert ants developed a collective consciousness, and attacked their fellow desert-dwelling human counterparts. It was a genuinely frightening movie on a couple of levels: not only was the insect cinematography excellent, but it also had that "that's-impossible-but-I-wouldn't-be-amazed-if it-did-actually-happen" possibility. (Hitchcock's "The Birds" springs to mind as well, as does "The Andromeda Strain".)) Anyhoo... Back to the BBC creepy crow... I just get this nagging feeling that if he only teamed up with his buddies and put their "mind" to it, we'd be in in a hurt locker.

And finally, a bit more on the woodworking 101... Before we start talking about tools, we first have to have a place to store them - enter the shop. Shops will vary depending on what you have available, your needs, your price range, your proposed project(s), your living situation, etc. But here are eight key considerations:

  • Have room enough. Tearing apart a chunk of house just to get a boat out of a basement is a bad thing. Trust me, I know.
  • Have heat. Trying to build a birdhouse (or anything) when the temperature is 17 degrees is an excruciating process. Been there. (And for Heaven's sake, use SAFE heat! I lost a childhood friend to carbon monoxide.)
  • Have adequate light to work safely. Not being able to see properly is a great way to get blood on your project. Done that..
  • Have a means for safe ventilation. Paints, varnishes, some glues, etc, can get you walking on the streets of brain damage pronto. (Think of a hangover on steroids.)
  • Be able to move your equipment around freely. Immobile machines and clutter under foot can cause injury. You try stumbling with a circular saw.
  • Use an area that you can control completely. A shop is no place for children, pets, or neophytes to be wandering. Once again, trust me, I know.
  • Establish a rock-solid work surface. Trying to cut a piece on a tippy old chair is just kicking "Old Mr. Fate" right in the wallet. Yeah, I learned that one the hard way too.
  • Have an adequate electrical service for your intended endeavors. If you're not sure, get a master electrician involved ASAP. (Man, it's exciting to have a table saw go dead right in the middle of a sizable cut!)
Do you see a pattern in the list above? In other words, I've made the mistakes so that you don't have to. Be safe... Be safe... Be safe...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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April 20, 2010

Identifying the Sex of a Bird and Project Gutenberg

Hi all,

One of our readers posted a straightforward question:

"Do you have any thoughts on how to identify male and female genders for Common Grackles and Morning Doves?"

The short answer to the question is that for mourning doves there are three things to look for:

  • The male is slightly larger
  • The males are more aggressive in mating season
  • The female is less reddish below
As for grackles:
  • Males will fluff out their shoulders to make a ruffled collar
  • Males will droop their wings and sing to impress the female
  • The female is smaller and duller in color
In general, males tend to be larger, and more colorful in both feather and behavior. But that's just the short answer. The important question is, "How did I get that info?"

Well, aside from watching birds, I have a small library of bird books and Web references. But there's a resource out there that cannot be over-rated: Project Gutenberg. Care to read all of Frank M. Chapman's "What Bird is That?" complete with illustrations? Just check out this site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/31751/31751-h/31751-h.htm. Granted... As the photo below shows, the search engine takes a bit of getting used to, but with a little practice, the fun never stops.

Gutenberg_resized_2010-04-21_003409.jpg

If you don't mind wandering through old books (including bird books), Project Gutenberg is for you. (There's even some audio books in there, so look carefully.)

That ought to keep you busy for a while!

As always, see you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Rumor has it that another contest is afoot... Stay tuned...


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April 10, 2010

Hummingbird Watch, Building Something, and a New Recipe

Hi all,

First off, check out the screen shot of our streaming hummingbird cam...

Sat_2010-04-10_181124.jpg

It's just a matter of time now... We can't wait. (I wonder how many photos we can get of the hummingbirds this season???)

And now, on an almost-completely different note... This blog has been no slouch when it comes to bird-based woodworking building projects. But maybe it's time to step back and offer a bit of wisdom (read that "painful experience" from someone who has made every cellulose-based moronic mistake known to humankind). Here's just the starting point... The base of a good handyperson's library:

  • "How to Work with Tools and Wood" (Standard Book Number: 671-78063-8)
  • "Audel's Carpenter's and Builders Library (Tools·Steel Square·Joinery)" (ISBN: 0-672-23365-7)
  • "The Complete Woodworker" (ISBN: 0-89815-022-1)
  • "The Woodwright's Shop" (ISBN: 0-8078-1484-9)
  • "a Museum of early American Tools" (ISBN: 0-345-32611-3)
  • "Shaker Furniture" (Standard Book Number: 0-486-20679-3)
  • "Making Authentic Shaker" Furniture (ISBN: 0-486-27003-3)
  • "Design and Figure Carving" (Standard Book Number: 0-486-21209-2)
  • Virtually any work by Harold "Dynamite" Payson... MUST-HAVE books include:
    • "Instant Boats" (ISBN: 0-87742-110-2)
    • "Build the New Instant Boats" (ISBN: 0-87742-187-0)
    • "Instant Boatbuilding with Dynamite Payson" (ISBN: 978-0-07-147264-7)
    To order the books, I'd use a service like Abebooks.com for most of the volumes, but would definitely order the Dynamite books right from the source. Granted, a few books is just a start, but it is a start. After 35 years of cabinet making (pro and amateur), I still turn to that relatively tiny collection of tomes. Anddd... Here's the hutch build as it stands now... (Note the stained glass work by "Cape Cod Glass Light", email: ennuisrealm@yahoo.com... That is simply outstanding work!)

    resized_hutch bottom with glass_101_0254.JPG

Anyhoo... What else? Oh yeah... Looks like we stumbled upon the world's best pork tenderloin recipe... Just stick a pound and a half tenderloin in a crock pot, dump in a can of Campbell's Healthy Request Minestrone soup along with a can of Healthy Request Chicken and Rice soup. Finally, empty half a can of H2O into the mix until the pork is thoroughly cooked. How's that for easy?

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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March 30, 2010

Emergency Supplies, etc.

Hi all,

Well, the shot below sure ain't very pretty:

dirty water in sink resized_101_0229.JPG

Unfortunately, that's a picture of our sink (and its contents) after the town's yearly water main flushing. It offers up a harmless (yet ugly) reminder as to why you should be prepared for almost anything, anytime. The fact is you just never know. (Just look at the flooding in the Northeast.) Oh, I've ranted about this before, and I've suggested a very good reference manual that's free for the taking. But the subject matter simply cannot be overstated. Be prepared... Here are some additional thoughts from a guy who used to prefer zero degrees Fahrenheit at midnight over 68F in a recliner on a Spring afternoon.

  • Always dress in (and have access to) zippered layers.
  • Never roam without having a flashlight and a pocketknife on your person. For me, it's a Zeico "torch" and Leatherman Micra. Yeah, I can hear you from here, "Crazy old CapeCodAlan needs a flashlight and a knife when battling in the savage corporate world of cubicles and air conditioners." Alright Bucko, here's a real world case where my little survival duo saved the day and my dignity too... After work in that corporate world, I always used to stop off at the local 99 and relax with a beer. As the place was between the lunch and dinner crowds, it was a great way to quietly unwind. On that particular day, I felt the call of Mother Nature, and retreated to my "throne." But as I sat there, most indiscreetly indisposed, the lights simply "clicked" off. Hmmm... On the one hand, the problem might just have been an electrical glitch, on the other, the joint could have been on fire - in the ink of that Men's Room, there was simply no way to tell. Thankfully, I had my diminutive flashlight and "stall etiquette" was appropriately applied as well as the standard thorough hand washing afterwards. (IMHO, anyone who doesn't wash his or her hands after using the bathroom is a cretin who should be forced to live on the moon. But I digress...) The long story made slightly shorter was that that little flashlight made a big difference in what would have been at best an embarrassing situation, and at worst could have been downright dangerous. Say no more.
  • At some point, you may need to consider a weapon... Ugly but true. Consider Katrina... You're going to have to figure out that one on your own.
  • For some reason the Cape Cod Commission piece above doesn't mention hydrogen peroxide. I wouldn't dream of a first aid kit without it. Ditto for Betadine.
  • Practice! Even if you and yours just hunker down for the night in your living room with the lights out and the temp down, practice. Emergencies eat rookies for breakfast.
  • If you've done your homework, expect long periods of profound boredom during a crisis. What are you going to read? Did you pack a deck of playing cards?
  • Here's the rule my bud and I used to use when wandering off... Double the time you expect to be "out there", and half the stuff you're expecting to carry.
  • Always, always, always have umpteen sources of fire available. A flashlight only gives you vision. A fire gives you warmth, a frightening weapon, and most importantly, piece of mind.
  • Nurture "esprit de corps". That is, think like a United States Marine. You hold in your hand not just your own fate, but that of your family and/or friend(s), and vice versa. To break up the team is to endanger not just your cohorts, but yourself as well.
  • In this day and age, not being able to communicate and determine your location are sins, plain and simple.
  • Remember "PAHSW".
  • Have three emergency kits ready - one that you can grab and run, a more extensive one that will let you and yours hunker down for a couple of weeks if need be, and one for each vehicle. (Hint: Always keep a 3' length of hardwood 2 X 8 in the trunk of the car. I hope you never have to find out why.)
  • Make, frequently update, and keep handy two lists - one with "must have" docs and photos, and one with contacts.
  • A large duffel bag is a good thing.
Well, that should keep you busy for a while....

See you prepped and ready by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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March 23, 2010

Rain, Birdsongs, etc.

Hi all,

Another rainy day here on the Cape...

Rain 003_resized.jpg

While this is certainly nothing like what they've been dealing with in North Dakota and Minnesota, it still affects the mood. I guess that's true for the birds as well... Right now, the red wings are putting up quite a racket. Earlier, it was the crows that wouldn't calm down... Hmmm... I wonder... I wonder if the weather really does have an effect on bird songs?

A quick search on the Web uncovers this gem from "A Science Centric"

Using aerial photographs to map the vegetation and habitat changes that took place between 1970 and 2005, when she began the research, Derryberry was able to determine that in places where plant growth had increased, bird songs were slowing down.

'This is likely due to the birds' avoidance of sound reverberation,' said Derryberry. 'Because California has steadily increased vegetation in areas that had previously been cleared, the birds slowed the frequency and tempo of their songs in order to avoid reverberation distorting their mating song.

In a way, that jives with what I (and no doubt countless others) have been hearing when it comes to the rain and noisy birds - when it storms, their songs become more piercing. They're probably trying to overcome the ambient din of the raindrops. Makes sense to me.

See you by those cacophonous feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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March 8, 2010

As Spring Lurches Closer... Projects!

Hi all,

projects_resized_101_0160.JPG

Well, that's quite an image? Where to begin? Maybe at the bottom...

That white object on the floor is the mailbox/birdhouse to be. I've repaired the wooden bottom, and pounded the metal of the box itself back into shape. That will be fine. After reviewing the comments from the link above, I've decided to pull a mea culpa and go with no perch... Birds have been making nests in metal objects since humankind has been making metal, so I'll simply round the edges of the hole, put on some paint, drill some ventilation holes, and mount the rascal. Problem solved.

As for the hutch... Well, the drawers are done. They consist of cherry, pine, and luan bound together with epoxy and 48 dovetails - beautiful, and brutally strong. But there's still a lot of work to be done... The top panels have to be secured to the posts via biscuits and glue, and the top and bottom doors need to be routed for the glass and hinges. Then there's more framework, cleats, the top, a couple more shelves, glass, tiles, hardware, lights, and final assembly. (Who knows what this thing is going to weigh when all is said and done?) Ahhh, Spring...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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February 23, 2010

Crow with Pizza, Crow Habits, Spring is Near

crow with pizza_resized_101_0062.JPG

Yup, there he is in all his ignoble glory. Mr. Crow with the scraps of an inedible pizza. (If anyone out there has ever found a store-brand microwave pizza that doesn't turn into a brick that even a Ginsu knife couldn't handle, let me know... 30 minutes is way too short of a lifespan for a pizza.) Anywho, there's Mr. Crow struggling with the doughy concrete. It took him and a bunch of his cohorts about half an hour to finish off the little blocks. No doubt some will end up in the birdbath. Maybe they'll soften up after a day or two.

More and more, I've noticed a chilling tendency in crow behaviors - they know me and they know Mrs. CCA. They know when we rise, what we do, when we eat, and especially when we're in the kitchen. I'm thoroughly convinced of this. It's downright weird to make lunch with no crows in sight, but then to start cleanup only to discover a murder staring at you through the kitchen window. (To be fair, I've mentioned corvid intelligence before.)

Finally... It looks like an early Spring is on the way for Cape Cod... Why do I say this? Two things... First, the spiders are beginning to make their sinister presence known once again. And, I heard a titmouse making his mournful two-tone call today... Oh, I imagine we'll still have a few more Winter storms, but the end is in sight.

See you by the feeder,

CapeCodAlan


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January 27, 2010

Birding Technology Continued and a Premonition...

Hi all,

Thought we might take a brief break from the birds for just a moment and re-visit late December, 2006. Way back then, we spoke of the wisdom of organizing your birding photos and files. Take a look at it now...

folder size_400_2010-01-27_225110.jpg

That's over 5,000 files, and 16 Gigs worth of bird stuff... (Needless to say... If anyone wants an east coast bird photograph, and can't find it in our library, just let me know... Odds are that we've got you covered.) But there's a bigger picture here... Note the organization... All it takes to back up a boat-load of work is a few clicks in Windows Explorer, and everything is taken care of. (As a matter of fact, I'm doing that now as I type.) And in this day and age of DVDs, on-line backup services, and cheap ($100) terabyte hard drives, not having redundant backups is simply unforgivable.

So let's see... What else is going on?

For some reason, the birds seem to be off their feed - that is, they're not hitting the feeders as hard as normal. Why? The weather forecast doesn't look that bad... We haven't seen any hawks around... Ground-based predators don't really pose a threat... What do they (the birds) know that we don't? In a way, it's kind of fun to ponder the mystery, but in another it's kind of spooky... We make sure that the birds have food and water, and sometimes they splurge, and other times they go missing... Why?

Signing off, but watchful...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 16, 2010

Bird Size and Bird-Brained Math

Hi all,

Oh, you're going to love this one - determining bird size from a photograph. For the backyard birder, this is pretty easy as long as you have a known reference. (Though for a nature birdwatcher, I'd imagine the task is a bit more formidable.) Alrighty then... Where to begin? Well, how about at the beginning Beguine? Here's the pic and we want to know the length of the crow...

crow with pizza in mouth1_enhanced_300.jpg

(Before we get to truly rocking and rolling, be forewarned that I'm using a digital microscope and a digital caliper, so if the following photograph strikes you as odd, that's OK. I'm just trying to introduce as much accuracy into the process as possible. There's no reason why you can't use a magnifying glass and a decent rule to perform the same steps...)

And away we go!

  1. Right off the bat, we're going to have to relate the unknown length of the beastie to a known length in the image. Well, it just so happens that I built that crow feeding tray and know that the rail that goes around the top is .75" tall. So now we have a reference.
  2. Next, I used the microscope and found the length of the bird in the picture.

    400_crow length from microscope.jpg

    Hmmm... Looks to be about 31 mm

  3. I repeated the step above and found that the .75" rail was about 1.4 mm
  4. So what is the ratio of the image railing to the real railing? It's about 13.25.
  5. Onward! To get the real length of the creature, we'll have to multiply the picture length of 31 mm by 13.25 and that gives us 410 mm, or about 16.125". That sounds right and looks right. Granted, the bird might be crouching or the snapshot angle may not be at a true 90 degrees... But close enough.
Well, that's about it... Sibley says that the length of a full-grown American Crow is 17", so if anything, this is probably a first-winter critter. Yeah, I know... That kind of info won't make the world spin off its axis, but it still is kinda cool...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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December 15, 2009

Possum, Turkeys, iPhones, and Whatever

Hi all,

Hey, this is post #497. (Just figured I'd keep you updated...)

Let's see... First, our Backyard Night Fishing got a hit last night. The new cam is working like a champ, and we got a possum.

420_possum.jpg

Not bad. Just a few minutes ago, a herd of turkeys rumbled through...

420_turkeys.jpg

Coolness exemplified I'd say.

But such is the effect that technology is having on birding. Have you seen the new $20 - $30 iPhone app, "iBird"? (Hat tip to California Kathryn!) For both at home and in the field, this is the ideal fingertip reference source. Neato keeno, though I'll keep my "Smithsonian Handbook" thank you very much.

Let's see, what else is going on? Not too much really. I'm trying to finish up a cherry hutch for the wife... I've been promising completion for years, and this season it will be done. It doesn't help that this is a brute of a piece, and structurally it has to be bulletproof while at the same time it has to be visibly elegant. Oh goody... I'm about half done with the worst decisions behind me. Now it's just a matter of...

WAIT! WHOA! What was that?!? I always keep the streaming cam open in a re-sized window so I can keep an eye on the action, and something just ran by. I don't think it was the shuffling trot of a raccoon, and it certainly didn't look like a dog or cat. It might have been a fox, though it had sort of a galloping gait. Maybe Cape Cod is being overrun with by Eohippi... I mean jeez... We've got so many Coelacanth flopping around here that we have to sweep them off the deck with a broom! OK, seriously, something did run by the cam, and I can't ID it... You really should tune in to our web cam and watch the show... It's a ton of fun...

Watson, by the feeders! Great Scott!

CapeCodAlan


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December 12, 2009

Anna's Hummingbird and the Cold

Hi all,

I was talking with Richard at Birdhouse Spy Cam in West Linn, OR, and he mentioned that he was still feeding the Anna's Hummingbirds.

resized_photo_1451_20081026.jpg

Photo credit: Ben Wilson

"No way!" I thought... Temps are in the twenties. Still, Richard has always been straight-up with me, so I took him at his word. He said that he basically sets up a light bulb under the feeder to keep it from freezing, and gets great activity. After our conversation, I looked up the Anna's and sure enough, they're the only hummer that can withstand freezing weather. The bottom line is that they have the ability to go "torpid" in the cold. (That is, they can slow their metabolism down to the point where they almost go dormant. My guess is that they take the energy saved from avoiding the normal frenetic behavior, and dump that into keeping their core alive. From any angle, this is just astonishing for such a small creature... Just when you think you've seen everything...)

What else? Welllllll... Now that our streaming bird cam is back up and running, the old "Backyard Night Fishing" is once again a going concern.

night.JPG

So far tonight I've got zip, but you just never know. I can't stress enough the fun I get out of watching the feeders in the darkness...

See you in the cold and great unknown,

CapeCodAlan


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November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day, 2009

FREEDOM FROM WANT_222.JPG Hi all,

The Norman Rockwell image to the left seems fitting for this day. (Figures that there would be a bird in there, even if it was cooked.) "Freedom From Want" was one of Rockwell's famous "Four Freedoms" and was inspired by an FDR speech:

"In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called "new order" of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."

- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, excerpted from the Annual Message to the Congress, January 6, 1941

In retrospect, parts of that speech now seem so wildly naive, but at least the thought was there.

Anyway, happy Thanksgiving everyone, and please try to think of the men and women of our armed services. Without them, there would be no Thanksgiving.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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November 19, 2009

More Cam Fun and Summer Past

Hi all,

Just a quick note to let you know that I'm making progress on the eBirdseed.com outdoor bird cam. (See link below.) Basically, the wireless doo-hickey (router) that receives the video signal and networking info from the streaming cam computer went belly up. (Routers are notorious for their propensity to turn turtle. Just consider yesterday's air traffic debacle.) To get a better sense of our issue, see the Oct 16, 2009 "Nor' Easter, and T-Shooting a Cam" and check out the diagram below:

cam_topo_440_final_2009-10-17_023650.jpg

Ya' see that "Wireless Signal" and that "Wireless Router" in the snap above? Well, they ain't doing the "Wireless Rumba" with any of our computers anymore. Sooo... To borrow from Felix Unger, "Sew Buttons!" I'll hard wire the reprobate signal right into the network. Take that you "Wireless Weasel". (I'm sorry that I drone on about this technical stuff as much as I do, but the fact is that people love these bird cams, and it's important to keep folks in the loop.)

As for the summer(s) past... There are times when it's fun to just roam through the photo library and see what jumps out. How about this...

strange_downy_400_PC154905.JPG

For the life of me, I have no idea how I missed that photograph along the way... Obviously, it's a downy and a goldfinch, but look at the brown on the back of the finch... Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know... It's all moot - the birds are long gone. What's the difference? Quite frankly, I don't know what the big deal is. It's just the silly fun of discovery, that's all - kind of like fixing a network.

What else? Oh! If you don't read the online Science Daily magazine, you might want to check it out. here's a great piece on a museum butterfly house, and another on creating a butterfly garden. (And yes, SD has a whole section on birds.) Very cool...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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November 1, 2009

Outer Primary Bird Feathers and Outings

Hi all,

Mrs. CCA took the week off and was determined to get in some serious nature outing... (King of the world Ma! Just look at that convoluted sentence!) Anywho... Picking up on the theme of amateur ornithology we started long ago, here's a bit more on primary bird feathers. First is the crow...

Fantastic_primary feathers_400_P1010102.JPG

Next is a mallard drake...

_resized_mallard drake_P1010021.JPG

Cool beans or what? Look at the shadow of the primaries on the duck's chest!

These snapshots were the result of a couple of days of "naturing". The first day, Mrs. CCA hit the Bank St. bogs and caught some fine Fall photographs, but it wasn't until she got home that she snapped the crow. The second image has a slightly longer story... Determined to make her "vaca day" a ringer we set out towards Brewster and Orleans. We found the end of Portanimicut Rd. and a congregation of ten ducks. With camera batteries already running low, she managed to capture the mallard. But the cool part was just tooling around the Cape in late October. We hit Rock Harbor, route 6A, Goose Hummock Sports Shop, and best of all "Land Ho!", a local cape eatery and landmark. (If you ever are on Cape Cod, you need to check out the killer burgers at Land Ho!)

Let's see... What else... Oh yeah... Halloween was eventful in a truly sinister way. As darkness was finally anchored, I looked out the picture window and spotted a large creature ambling down the road right under the street light in front of the house. I muttered a series of "uh oh's" and the wife rushed over to see what the problem was. Problem indeed. The coyote/wolf was huge. I saw it for the longest period of time - maybe 15 seconds. It most definitely wasn't a dog, but its hind legs sort of drooped like a shepard. I'd put the weight in the 50 pound range... I thought about calling the police in the hope that they could shine a spotlight on it and scare it away, but it was gone within seconds. (BTW... You don't see many pets running free on Cape Cod for a reason... Word to the wise.) Anyway, no one got mauled, but there's a lesson there - as we as a culture do more and more to protect wildlife, the outdoors becomes more and more wild. Let's be careful out there...

Gotta run,

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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October 7, 2009

eBirdseed.com Cam is Back!

Hi all,

Well, it wasn't pretty, but the eBirdseed.com bird cam is back. Before another word is typed, thanks go out to Shane Croft at PcWinTech.com. I can't speak to all of their software, but I can address Shane's support on a piece of his freeware ("Simple Port Forwarding"...) Outstanding from every angle. No more and no less. Shane, bud, I owe you a beer.

Onward...

So here's the deal about the eBirdseed.com cam... For the life of me I couldn't get the puppy to work. I spent seven days and nine pages of notes trying to get the bugger to stream so that you could see it... Nope. Finally, I ran across Shane, and all systems are go. Add to that a little wood butchery on the house and the cable is tucked in nice and cozy...

Cable running into basement_400.jpg

Now the problems swirl around stuff like focus, location, and day/night (check out the possum below!)

Night possum-1_highlighted_re-sized.JPG

Yeah, aside from his white face, he's pretty much indistinguishable... But just wait till I get the camera located properly. This is going to be cool.

Lots of work to do, so I'll see you on the flip side by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 30, 2009

Update on Comments and Designing a Better Crow Pic Platform

Hi all,

I just wanted to give you a quick update on what's been happening with some of your comments and address those I just discovered. If you haven't seen your comments being posted in the most timely of fashions, don't lose heart - there's a reason for this. When a reader submits a comment (and we do love your comments by the way!), I am notified by email that I should read and if appropriate, approve that comment. Naturally, I check my email several times a day every day just so that I can quickly address your thoughts. But here's where the going gets fun. Like all commercial (and private) email systems, we do occasionally get spam, and like all commercial systems, we use software to try to filter that out. And somewhere between our spam filter, the email system, and human error (probably mine), a few comments have slipped past. Sooo...

As best as I can tell, there were two old comments (9 days) that I want to address right here, and right now, and hopefully bring us all up to speed.

One reader pointed out that I'd messed up the math on the "Designing a Better System for Crow Pics and Vids" entry. Right on Harry "Gipper" Morris! The pic below shows the proper dimensions and angles needed to mount one camera 15" away from the center of the feeder and the other 40" away on a single support mounted to the base of the 48.5" feeder post.:

Computer-based_400_crow camera mount.jpg

It's interesting to note that while I wrote the incorrect angle between the base of the feeder post and the support (I wrote 35 degrees when in fact it was as Gipper correctly pointed out around 17.2 degrees) I still got the length of the support correct to 1/100th of an inch. (84" - 4" for the camera mount.) Unfortunately that's what I get for doing exactly what I used to admonish my students for doing - scribbling and trying to play the "number shortcut in my head game". Thanks again Harry! And yes Harry, it would be great to hear of your adjustable system, though I think you might be right - the whole shebang might just scare the birds away.

Next comment... Gipper mentions his F-120 camera not having a remote control option. True enough. But there are five ways to go:

  • Some folks literally hack into the hardware of the camera and make their own remote. There's quite a bit of info concerning this on the Web. Personally I wouldn't do it for fear of destroying the camera, but I know others have done it.
  • Some people hack disposable cameras as above.
  • If you check out the model rocketry and RC plane sites, there are a bunch of remote cameras.
  • You can build a little platform and jury rig a mechanical shutter "finger" using an RC control and servo motor. I did this for a kite camera and it worked well.
  • And then there are the more conventional cameras with the remote feature built in.
Hope this ties up the loose ends! And by all means, if you do have comments, make 'em. And if you want to reach me directly, you can email me at: capecodalan@ebirdseed.com.

(In my best Strother Martin voice) We'll be commun'catin' by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 20, 2009

Designing a Better System for Crow Pics and Vids

Hi all,

For some time now, we've been trying to find a reliable way to both remotely photograph, and video record our crow tray with limited results. Oh, we've had our moments, but still, there has to be a better way. (It almost seems as if the tripod/cams rig scares away as many birds as it photographs.)

So, here's the deal... I'm starting to think about maybe building a single, canted, permanent camera support board that will be attached to the base of the crow tray. Since the focal lengths of the cameras differ (the NovaBird is 15", and the Flip Video is at least a meter), I'll have to arrange the board such that the NovaBird's lens will be at the bird's eye level, and the Flip Video will be shooting down; and both will have to be at the right focal length. Confusing? Just think of the Leaning Tower of Pisa rammed into the base of the crow feeder such that both cameras will be happy.

Alrighty then... What have we got to deal with? Well, this...

post with crow tray_resized.JPG

Here's what I'm thinking of. (And yes, I know the difference between the leg and the hypotenuse of a right triangle!)

Crow feeder with cam support jutting out_400.JPG

Hopefully, this is the math that will all make it work... (I heard that groan... Don't make me come over there!)

camera mount_final sized_400.JPG

Bottom line? I now know the scale I'm dealing with, and can easily make such a contraption, but I'm not sure I want it. (Ah, the crude beauty of pen and paper.)

We'll be thinking by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. BTW... I used the "Law of Cosines" for much of the number crunching on this one.)


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July 19, 2009

Home Network Problems and Carved Birds

Hi all,

Well, my network went bonkers. I mean like crazy man. Somehow the power cord to the cable modem went roaming for greener pastures, and the battery backup could only hold the fort for just so long. (How I love mixed metaphors! But you get the idea.) As the modem wheezed away, apparently it damaged either the router or the NIC. Anywho, my network is sucking wind, and the connected eBirdseed bird cam is down. (Keep in mind that my network is completely separate from the eBirdseed.com network which is fine... that's why you're able to read this.) To remedy the situation on my end, we've purchased a new router, and shifted the modem over to another computer. Now, if we can just get the router working, that will breath life into our network, and bring the camera back online. In an arcane way this is really a bummer... We launched the bird cam about 15 months ago, and ran into trouble after roughly 4,000 views. Since then, I've reset the thing in our kitchen, and racked up another 15,500 views. All told, we were inching up on 20,000 hits when this new problem occurred - arcane bummer indeed. But stay tuned, I'll fix this mess, or my name isn't Phineas J. Whoopee.

On to the birds...

Obviously, the shots below aren't exactly of real birds... These are carvings by a local artisan - Fred Schmelke from right here on Cape Cod. It's quality stuff... The birds are (in order): Canada Goose, a Stilt, the Short-billed Dowitcher, and a Pin Tail...

Canada Goose_400.JPG

stilt_400.JPG

short billed dowitcher_400.JPG

Pin tail_400.JPG

BTW and FWIW, collecting carvings and quality models is a really good idea. There is nothing like being able to walk over to the mantle and pick up a well crafted bird and examine it from every angle and from every light. The things are irresistible.

So that's it... A broken network and bird models. What do ya want for nuthin'? Rubber biscuits?

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 17, 2009

Road Trip... PTown!

Hi all,

Thought I'd try a little something different... That is, perhaps give you a feeling for a Cape Cod treasure - Provincetown (aka "PTown"). Yeah, there will be a reference to birds, but only once. This time I'm going to shoot for a bit of variety.

And "variety" might be the perfect word for PTown. But I'm jumping the gun. First, here's a map of the end of Cape Cod to give you some bearing. Note the compass rose.

map.jpg

Yup, Provincetown is the end of the salty, sandy, and scrub pine-lined roadway known as Rt. 6. If nothing else the little village boasts creativity, diversity, and uhhh... Historically speaking, the scan above speaks volumes, but it's the culture and concomitant architecture and physical layout of the place that provides real insight. The next photograph should help us gain access to a better view of the entire scene. This is the PTown Monument, all 250 feet of her. (350' if you count High Pole Hill upon which the monument perches.)

Tall tower_400.JPG

Next is a pic taken out the back of the base of the monument. That neat spire in the background is the top of the town hall.

Top of town hall from ground_400.JPG

Alrighty then, take a look or two from the top of the monolith...

warf and parking lot_400.JPG

That town hall is right below and just out of sight. You can see MacMillan Wharf on the left. Notice anything else? Kinda tight digs ain't it? Here's another view...

village with dunes in background_400.JPG

And this last snapshot says a lot too...

Tiny house_400.JPG

Put bluntly, Provincetown isn't for everybody. If the sight of same-sex couples holding hands or the smell of smoldering ganja mixed with grilled hot dogs puts you on edge, PTown ain't for you. But if you can keep your values to yourself, and leave your agenda at the door, the place looks pretty good. If you're polite and civilized, you might just be at home on those turbulently crowded streets.

Yesterday, as we started back to Harwich, we saw half-scattered flocks of grackles coming off Pilgrim Lake in a gray and windy sky, and their angle and our speed was such that they seemed to just rest beside us. That's Provincetown Massachusetts.

Some day, maybe just some day, I'll realize my last dream and become a PTown High School teacher amidst the static, scrape, and bird songs. Yeah... to teach Algebra and Calculus, Physics and Phys Ed. in a small school... that would be a good thing. To build small boats for sale, and quahog for a few extra bucks... All watched over by a village of loving if sometimes ignoble grace. (H/T Brautigan...)

Waiting by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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June 30, 2009

Wood Butchery and Feeder Repair

Repairing the Oriole feeder_400_IMG_3355.jpg

I don't know... Someone probably wrote this post long ago, but just in case... There are ways (as ugly as they are) to make wood do exactly, precisely what you want sort of. And that goes for the feeder above. Here's the deal... Most folks would look at that funky old broken-down feeder and say, "Replace it!" But now look at the tools above, and come to grips with the hidden karma of your recycling soul. We can re-build it, make it better, repair it. So we epoxy in a couple of new orange spikes and use a heavy cable tie as a hanger; that won't make the world explode. (And if the squirrels break those spikes, that will mean an open declaration of war... I'll make orange spikes no squirrel can ruin - Hell hath no fury like an engineer crossed.)

Anywho... About the tools and repair... The spikes were broken off and their holes were clogged - nothing that a drill, some scrap, and a couple healthy dollops of epoxy couldn't cure. Better than new. And if that isn't good enough, it will be.

There's something about the "Waste Makers'" attitudes that grinds against the very nature of "we'll-find-a-way" folks. We just don't like the "Cornucopian" or endless view of new stuff. Better wood butchery or whatever.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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February 28, 2009

Spring is Trying to be Sprung... Oh My!

resized_dove and rabbit 017.jpg

Where oh where to begin?

Let's see... According to the "Ubiquitous Weather Guy", New England is about 5 degrees cooler than normal for this time of year. (We've got another storm bearing down on us as I type.) Anyway, it looks like "Old Mr. Squirrel" was right that Winter ain't quite over yet.

But there is another issue beside the weather that deserves a bit of observation, and I'm not sure how to approach it tactfully. Let's just use the image above and see if we can't ease into this as gentlefolk...

No doubt you know of the rabbit's reputation for... ummm... reproductive expediency. (Oh if I could only write this in the voice of Andrew Dice Clay, this would be the shortest and funniest post ever.)

Anyway, I glanced out the kitchen window the other day, and there were two squirrels fussing and fretting on the deck railing. Though upon quicker observation, it became apparent that they weren't exactly fussing and fretting. (I say "quicker" because the entire honeymoon seemed to last all of about 5 seconds.)

Sure enough, the next day, two more squirrels were having a "Barry White" moment... But just for a moment....

Observations and studies:

  • Gray squirrels mate twice a year (Spring and end of Summer) and have a total of 4 to 10 kittens per year
  • Squirrels begin mating around one year of age, and can live as long as ten years
  • Squirrels certainly don't need Viagra, but they could use a workshop on slowly developing that "magic moment"
Ahem... Tis my responsibility to write about backyard nature and offer predictions like a continuing Winter. So be it. But nature is also telling us that Spring has begun to sprung if you know what I mean.

See you by the feeders, and I'll be blushing...

CapeCodAlan


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February 2, 2009

Using the Free eBirdseed Photo Library (and About that Superbowl)

FLICKER_resized.jpg

Great photograph ain't it? I downloaded it off our eBirdseed.com photo library. More about that in just a moment... But first, a tip of the hat concerning the Superbowl. That was an exciting game! The score went back and forth... There were great plays... Ate too much... Just a lot of fun... Congrats to the Steelers!

Now, back to the birds and the bird picture library... I've been writing this blog for over two years now, and I hope that it will go without saying that you readers know that our snapshot collection (see link above or below) contains over 2,000 images free for the taking. But then again, perhaps you're new here, so I'll reiterate - free stuff. Just choose the pixel dimensions that suit you, right click and save the shot appropriately. And no, venturing toward the collection won't make your "In Box" burst with spam. We don't work that way. (In fact, I like to use a snap here or there as my desktop's wallpaper and my "In Box" is just fine, thank you.) The only thing we ask is that you keep and use the photographs in a "rated-G" fashion.

Gotta run! No doubt that there will countless "experts" analyzing the NFL, and we all certainly have to keep up on the details...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. IMHO I thought Springsteen looked too much like Neil Diamond, and Clarence looked too glittery...


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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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December 28, 2008

Flicker and Computer Geek Talk

Happy holidays...

Thought I might start this post off with a nice flicker shot, and then move on to dweeb stuff... We took the photo below earlier this year.

resized_ADS_flicker1.jpg

Flickers are such cool birds - big like a robin, colorful like woodpeckers, and just wonderful to watch in that flashing yellow, hectic flight. I really need to get some more pics of them.

Enough droning on about flickers though. (If you want to see more shots of the Colaptes auratus, just use the Photo Library link below.)

Other stuff... The wife just got a blistering new computer with a monitor bigger than a breadbox, and just slightly smaller than a Jumbotron stadium display. And that got me to thinking of the old days when I got into this vocation/avocation back in the late '70s and early '80s. (Yeah, brace yourself for some brief but brutal "slide-rule slobbering.") When I graduated from high school in '76, I had a keen interest in math, and no money. Still, things like slide rules, electronics, calculators, and even computers were absolutely compelling. By the early '80s I was making $5.00/hr working in a drug store, and sitting on the sidelines as those with deeper pockets bought Apple IIs and Commodore 64s (the latter ran at a mind-numbing 1 MHz!)

But in 1982, a wonderful thing happened - Timex released a $99, 2K RAM, membrane keyboard personal computer that even I could afford. There wasn't much software available, but at least I could program in BASIC and save my programs on a tape recorder. Oh those were the days! I remember the first time I saw a word processor word wrap, and the first time I saw a split screen. Other stuff would follow... A Commodore 128, a TI, 8086, 80386, 80486, Pentiums, networks, etc., etc., etc.

A couple of days ago I ordered a mini computer using pocket change I've collected over the years. That machine has a 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. (That's roughly 1000 times faster and boasting 500,000 times more memory than my first computer.)

So as you read this, appreciate that there was a time before flat screens, the Web, and even bird blogs.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Thanks Santa!


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December 12, 2008

Holiday Offerings... eBirdseed.com Sales and PC advice Part 2 of 2

christmas lights_IMG_2036_resized.JPG

Last time, I suggested easing your shopping woes by checking out our eBirdseed.com seasonal sales. This post will hopefully shed a bit of insight for all you personal-computer Santas out there. So, with a couple of computer degrees, 25 years of experience, and just enough savvy to be dangerous, let's get started. (Understand that there will be umpteen decisions to be made, and some will be subjective... But at least here are some general pointers.)

  • First, decide what you want, or might want, and then look at hardware afterwards.
  • Buy from a source that offers customer reviews. I look for a max number of good customer reviews. Companies like Dell and Gateway offer this service.
  • Have a data backup plan that actually will be used. If the machine I'm working on right now was to roll over and point it's little silicon legs skyward, I've got all my important stuff backed up. Down the road, will you be able to say the same about that Christmas present you're thinking about? Never "out buy" your backup.
  • Don't "over buy" and don't "under buy". That is, if you're looking for a machine that can handle day-to-day chores, basic Web stuff, etc., a simple 2GHz, 2MB Intel Duo with a 320GB HD should be more than enough. For a system like that, expect to spend around $300 - $500. The next step might be a $500 - $700 2.2GHz, 3MB PC complete with a 500GB drive. That should take care of multimedia stuff such as movies. And when it comes to an even more powerful desktop for extreme gaming or video work, brace yourself. Start thinking of the new Intel Quad Duo, gobs of memory, and video cards that will bend light and your wallet. (If you're pondering that kind of machine, you probably know more than I do about this stuff.)
  • And speaking of video, most machines nowadays come with some pretty respectable hardware. But if you are thinking about high-end graphics, take a deep breath and see above.
  • Sound: Here's an area in which I think most people drop the ball. Typically, a decent sound card like the Sound Blaster Audigy and a respectable pair of speakers will run $100 - $200. Given the quality of sound available, that is cheap money indeed.
  • The option to include a media card reader is a cheap must. Twenty dollars spent now will save hassle in the future.
  • But what of software? If you have any exposure to MS Office files, just take your lumps and buy Office pre-installed. If you're just a casual user, MS Works should be fine.
  • And then there was "Anti Virus"... Well you need something. Norton and McAfee are popular. (If you look at the eBirdseed.com home page, we scan the site daily with McAfee..)
  • Hmmm... Service plans... Your call. I tend to buy from quality manufacturers and maintain the machines, so I usually don't have a problem.
  • One last tip... Buy on-line (sort of) and in bulk! When the time comes to buy a computer, ask your friends, neighbors, and co-workers if they want to join in on the savings. Next load up your shopping cart and then call in. It's been my experience that a sales associate will walk you through your cart. I know for a fact that at least one big PC company will knock $$$ off a multiple-machine order if you just have your ducks in a row and are willing to ask.

    See you by those terabyte feeders,

    CapeCodAlan


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December 5, 2008

Grumpy Grackle and Other Friday Stuff

DSC_0010_resized.JPG

The grackle shot above aptly describes my mood right now. Yet more computer problems... It seems that a person fixes one technical issue, and then faces two more. Thankfully, we've got more than enough computers to go around.

Other stuff...

As was mentioned some time ago, the small wooded block of property beside ours was donated to the local conservation trust. Today, half a dozen folks showed up and cleared the lot of invasive foreign climbing vines (Asian bittersweet). I'm not sure if they're going to want us to remove some of the vines on our lot... But if they do, we can work that out. In the mean time, the cleaning crew was fairly noisy and scared the birds away from our feeders, but that is a minuscule cost for a better wildlife sanctuary next door.

What else? The wife noted a squirrel on the trellis earlier. For that matter, the crows like the trellis too.

Please forgive the ramblings... It's a busy mundane Friday, with a ton of stuff to do, and little energy to do it. See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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November 18, 2008

Glue and Birds and Why I Owe Billy Mays an Apology

tripod after mighty putty_resized_IMG_1883.JPG

Hi all,

Yup, the photo above is the result of our last post's test. That was the post where I inferred that Billy May's "Mighty Putty" would never patch a broken tripod. Mea Culpa goes out to Billy Mays.

The fix worked like a dream, and has the heft to suggest that it will continue to do so for some time to come. But that got me to thinking... What adhesives should the backyard birder consider in the construction and maintenance of stuff like feeders, bird houses, roosts, camera tripods, etc. Being a "glue nut" I thought I might toss in my $.02...

But before we explore glue, let's give a quick nod to the issue of safety... Obviously, follow all manufacturer's directions and keep all chemicals away from both the birds and you. It's really a "no brainer". Now, let's take a look at sticky glop...

  • First up is stuff like "Mighty Putty"... MP is really just an epoxy-based adhesive, and as such has significant physical properties. (Mighty Putty's compression strength is 12,000 pounds per square inch.) Other products of similar ilk include "J-B Stik", and "A + B". The list just goes on and on. So where to use this wonder "peanut butter"? The putty shines wherever you have a gap in any number of materials and need real strength. The tripod is a good example.
  • The kissing cousin of MP et al is the supermarket syringe-type 5-minute or 30-minute liquid epoxy. And it's not bad. Because of cost, I don't think I'd use it to build a bird house, but it's plenty strong.
  • And then there's plain epoxy from folks like West, Mas, U.S. Composites, System Three... When used with the right thickening agents, these products are wildly strong and have good gap-filling properties. Just brace yourself for the cost.
  • Taking a large step backwards is the old faithful, white Elmer's glue. Elmer's is fine for indoors light-duty work, but that's about it.
  • Next up is the new "yellow glue" such as TiteBond III. This is probably the best bet for that backyard project. It's weatherproof, relatively cheap, and holds well so long as your joint isn't too shabby.
  • The ubiquitous "Crazy Glue" (a cyanoacrylate) is fine for inside hobby applications.
  • Construction adhesive has its place - it's moderately gap filling and quite strong.
  • I'm not really crazy about silicon or vinyl products, though Phenoseal is pretty good and has a low "volatile organic compound" rating. (That is, it's pretty benign.)
  • WeldWood is a powder that when mixed with water makes for a decent, cheap, strong, waterproof adhesive. I used to build boats with the stuff, and it ain't bad.
  • Rounding out the list is the new Gorilla Glue. This is a polyurethane glue that when "misted" with water forms a strong waterproof joint. It's a good adhesive, but not cheap.
There are other glues you probably won't use (like resorcinol and hide), but at least this should get you started. The best four pieces of advice I can offer are:
  • Check to make sure that the glue you are buying is appropriate for the materials at hand
  • Always test on scrap
  • 95% of the time, Titebond III will handle outdoor projects involving wood
  • When in doubt, use both fasteners and the proper adhesive

Still stuck by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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November 16, 2008

Male Downy Woodpecker and Whatnot

Resized_DSC_0050.JPG

Gotta' love those cute little downys... The suet and feed have been popular over the last few days, so I set up "Old Faithful" (our NovaBird remote, motion-triggered camera) and let her go - great fun really. We can set up the rig in the afternoon and pretty much forget about it until sundown. That usually results in hundreds of shots including a few good ones. It was interesting that when I was setting up the camera (it has to be roughly 15" away from the intended subject), the birds continued to use the feeder. That leads me to believe that I could probably set up our 10 MP Canon Eos and simply stand there and get some pretty impressive photographs. (The NovaBird is a 3 MP job with a 0.5" lens.)

And while we're on the subject of lens craft, the image below is of one of our tripods, and obviously it's seen better days.

broken tripod_resized_before glue_IMG_1876.JPG

Tonight's mission is to see if I can't mend that crack. (Yeah right!) But not to worry, One of my hobbies is collecting glue. I kid you not. The photo below depicts just part of my collection.

glue_Resized_IMG_1878.JPG

Missing are such treasures as Gorilla glue, TiteBond III, and umpteen boatbuilding epoxies. (Why is it that as I'm typing these words, I''m getting the feeling that your "Geek Alarm" might be going off?) Anyway... Onward. The plan of attack is to use "Mighty Putty", an epoxy-based $5.00 miracle product endorsed by "Billy Mays" himself! Tune in next time to see what happens.

Stuck by the feeders, but still watching the woodpeckers boss,

CapeCodAlan


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November 14, 2008

Play and Spatial Communication

Toby in frig_ADS.jpg

The shot above is of our cat Toby partaking in one of his morning games - "Let's explore the refrigerator". It's a silly game really in that he doesn't like anything in the fridge, but it's part of a set of games he uses to communicate. He has an elaborate pattern we're still trying to pin down. Play/groom in the morning, sleep in the day, play at night, then sleep and repeat the process. If he's frustrated or mad, he retreats to a corner. If he wants to initiate a new series of games, Toby slinks under the TV. There's a rug for particularly exciting games or exciting things. All told, there are over a dozen games/locations. But all seem to revolve one key element: spatial communication.

Now, let's extrapolate that sort of behavior/communication to birds - in particular, the corvids (our local crows). We all know that there are times when the birds frequent the feeders. But that's not what I'm talking about. Crows seem to have their own sort of patterns just like Toby. In the mornings they caw from the eastern side of the house. As the sun moves westward, so do the crows. OK, given the Corvid's intelligence, behavior patterns shouldn't be too surprising. However, there are two perceived tendencies that are a little creepy in a Hitchcockian sort or way. The first is they seem to watch us quite frequently. From time to time the wife or I will pass by the glass slider or walk into the kitchen and there will be a crow standing on top of the bird house just staring at us. The second habit tends to be a bit more freakish. Twice I've been cleaning the gutters and discovered rocks on the roof. I mean come on, I know crows leave stuff around, but rocks? (Here's a great article about animals at play.)

Anyway, my assertion is that animals like Toby and the crows do communicate not just by the obvious vocal means but also by spacial location and play. Love to hear from others concerning this stuff...

I'll be standing over at the feeder's six o'clock with my jacks...

CapeCodAlan


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October 15, 2008

Possible Coyote/Wolf Hybrid Photograph?

P1125093_resized.JPG
Hi all,

Back on October 5th, I wrote a post basically stating that wildlife is indeed wild. In that piece I mentioned coyote/red wolf hybrids here on Cape Cod. That got reader Kathryn wondering if I had any photos of said beast. So, I went back through the pics I had, and found the shot above. I took that back in January of this year. (The "coyote" had just finished devouring a gray squirrel whole. Think about the girth of a full-grown squirrel fitting in the mouth of the animal and that will give you some perspective of the size of the thing.)

We're not sure if the creature is pure coyote... The markings look about right, as does the face. The ears aren't as pointy as I would expect, but that doesn't mean much. For me however, the one thing that makes this guy different from the local coyotes (by my eyes anyway) is its stockiness. All the coyotes I've seen around here are quite scrawny... But if I had to guess, I'd say this brute weighed around 50 to 75 pounds - the latter being the upper limit for a plain North-eastern Coyote.

So Kathryn, I don't know if I took a shot of a hybrid. But I do know that I wouldn't want to open a door or walk around a corner and startle him.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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October 8, 2008

Hairy or Downy Woodpecker?

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Back on September 2nd, I offered advice on "How to be a Birding Expert Without Really Trying" Looks like the shot above is one for the experts. So, is it a Hairy or is it a Downy?

By my of seeing things, it's a Downy, and here's why:

  • The bill of a Hairy is roughly as long as the distance from the red occipital patch to the face. This bird's beak is too short.
  • A Downy has a sizable white back patch
  • The Downy's face is quite white compared to a Hairy. All the references below indicate that the facial color scheme suggest Downy.
While we're on this subject of references, I couldn't help but notice that the books show that the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is quite similar to the two mentioned above. I've always wanted to see a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker if for no other reason than the old "Honeymooners" skit. In that piece, Ed Norton has decided to start birdwatching, and tells Ralph Kramden that he has spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Kramden balks and asks Norton how he knows it really was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker... To which Ed replies, "Well, it had a yellow belly and it was sucking sap!"

Alright... Speaking as an "expert", I've changed my mind. Speaking as an "expert", the bird isn't a Downy (or a Hairy for that matter). It's a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and the suet ain't suet, but rather it's sap.

Ed and I will see you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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October 5, 2008

Wildlife is Indeed Wild

Hi all,

fox good_resized_397.JPG

It's an interesting photo isn't it? What's not to love about a little fox in the backyard? But it also underscores a rather dangerous problem... Here's a quick story, a bit of insight, and hopefully a word to the wise.

A couple of days ago a woman was walking her dog here in Harwich on Cape Cod, and was warned by a neighbor that she was being followed by a coyote. Sure enough, both she and her black lab were being actively pursued. With that, she ran to a nearby friend's house and took shelter there. The coyote literally came to the door looking for her and her dog. Eventually, the coyote moved on and the neighbor drove the pair home.

The insight gained? Times have changed, and not just on Cape Cod (though Cape Cod and the above story serve as fine examples). Because of the conservation efforts over the last 30 years, in many places wildlife is on the rebound, and it is indeed very wild. To make matters worse, here on Cape Cod, the coyotes are part wolf.

So a word to the wise... In the tale above, maybe the "coyote" was just curious about the woman and her dog. Maybe the coyote thought there was some chance to mate. But as the piece cited above states,

Coyotes eat cats and have been known to kill small dogs and maim medium-size canines. Although attacks on humans are extremely rare, two of three reported cases in Massachusetts occurred on Cape Cod. This summer, a woman visiting South Yarmouth got nervous when a coyote followed her and her 2-year-old son as they walked their small dog.

The absolute bottom line is that you need to be on your guard around wild animals like coyotes. You have to give them wide berth. If that means walking the dog with a neighbor, so be it. And if one or more coyotes (or whatever for that matter) should attack a pet or backyard favorite (I worry about our wild turkeys), do not try to intervene. Seek shelter and be safe. Pets and birds aren't worth stitches and rabies shots. Sorry, but that's just common sense.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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September 28, 2008

Bird Cam, Contest, and Chowder Update

birdcam_IMG_1511_415.JPG

Hi all,

The picture above is of our informal eBirdseed.com hummingbird cam (the gray object stuck to the window). Since we put the camera up, we've had over 9,000 views. And that's wonderful when there are hummingbirds around. But the problem is that on Cape Cod now, the hummingbird season is over and the camera pretty much shows bupkis. So what do we do? We could simply replace the hummingbird feeder with a standard feeder and that way see lots of bird action. On the other hand, we could try to do something crazy like enclosing the camera in a waterproof container and running it out to the squirrel feeder. (That would exceed the limits of USB cable length, but would still make for an interesting experiment.) What do you guys think?

Onward... Remember, the eBirdseed.com September '08 bird photography contest is about to end, so enter 'em if you got 'em. You can see the current entries here.

Finally, here's an update on our world-famous quahog chowder recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups clam meat chopped (best scratched from mud during storm)
  • 1 cup clam juice from above clams
  • 1 medium-sized white onion sliced and diced
  • 2 inch square of salt pork sliced and diced
  • 2 peeled, medium-sized potatoes diced
  • 1 quart of milk
  • 1 pint of heavy cream
  • 1/2 stick of butter (optional)
Steps:
  1. Practice sanitary kitchen habits
  2. Place potatoes in milk and warm gently in pot 'til almost fork tender
  3. While potatoes soften, shuck quahogs... (hint: if a 'hog doesn't want to open, nuke him for a max of 10 seconds)
  4. Use cheese cloth to filter out grit and shell bits
  5. Dice quahogs and let them simmer in their juice on low heat
  6. Fry salt pork until cracklings are a golden brown, then set aside. (Save that fat!)
  7. Lightly brown onion in pork fat
  8. Dump all ingredients in pot along with 4 oz. of heavy cream to gently stew for an hour or so stirring during commercials
  9. Serve with dab of butter and more cream to suit in cup. (This is a rich recipe!)
The secret to this formula is not letting anything burn or curdle, yet still cooking thoroughly. For a couple in the kitchen, plan on 2 - 3 hrs start to finish.

See you by those photogenic and oh so aromatic feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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September 9, 2008

Cheap Gas (Sort of...)

Hi all,

I decided to give the backyard birds a break and touch upon the wallet for this post. Not to worry - you can still enter the backyard bird photo contest. That doesn't end until September runs out.

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Well, there she is... Our pride and joy... If you haven't seen her yet, well there you go...

So what on earth does a 700lb boat trailer combo have to do with cheap gasoline?!? As it turns out, everything... Here's the explanation...

Mrs. CCA and I had to drive out approximately 100 miles to retrieve the boat above. (I'll rough the numbers, but the stats are spot on.) On the trip out we averaged around 20 MPG and that cost us roughly $20 at $4.00/gallon. But the return trip was to be far more interesting. Because I'd never driven a trailer before I was hyper-careful about not exceeding 55 MPH and allowing plenty of slow braking room (not to mention slow acceleration). And what was the return-trip fuel cost towing 700 lbs? About $14.

Yup... Read that about a 30% gasoline savings while towing a 700lb load just by using conservative driving techniques...

And by chance should you ease off the gas, carpool, and/or go to the market with your neighbors... Who knows? 50% savings? 60% savings?

Just some thoughts...

See you by those thrifty feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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May 31, 2008

Animal Intelligence and Communication

Hi all,

For those of you new to this blog, meet Toby...

Toby%20stretched%20out_400.jpg

Toby is a 15 pound Ragdoll cat. (Ragdolls are generally regarded as the largest breed of domestic cat.) And while Toby is big, his IQ doesn't necessarily equal his girth. In fact, at times, Toby can be "intellectually challenged". (He still struggles to open cracked doors, runs into things, flees for no reason, etc.) Regardless, there's something going on in his furry little mind. Of particular interest is his means of communication... But let's back up just a little...

In a past post, (see Crow Brains) we looked at the brains of corvids. There's little doubt that they are some of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom because of the relatively large pallium areas in their brains. Conversely, there's also little doubt that Toby has a considerably smaller pallium bunch, or more accurately, a smaller "Encephalization Quotient" (animal equivalent of the human IQ) than a crow. (e.g. Crows have no problems avoiding trees. Toby on the other hand, has no problem attracting table legs with the front of his skull.)

Now, with the matter of bestial IQ in focus, let's go back to the issue of communication...

Toby is exceptional here...

  • When he's frustrated, he invariably heads for the nearest corner
  • There's a certain rug that means "serious play time"
  • Bedtime is announced with his hop into a laundry basket
In short, Toby uses spatial markers to "talk" with us... And that's just Toby, the "intellectually challenged" cat. What are corvids (crows, jays, nutcrackers, etc.) "saying" and how are they saying it? In the case of our backyard, so far I've managed to identify two crows by both their calls (one is a slow "caw caw", and the other is a quick series of three caws) and their choice of branches. But crows also have "head bobs", clicks, hopping patterns, and who knows what else. You know, for the right person, a great "Morning Coffee" hobby might be watching a particular species of bird and noting patterns of behaviors which equate to a desired action on our part.

Hey, if Toby can talk with us, the birds certainly can...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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May 4, 2008

Final CamStreams Webcam Layout, etc...

Hi,

As promised earlier, here's a slightly better diagram of the layout for the eBirdseed webcam. With a little luck, it might lend clarity to the first rough drawing.

Sketchup%20version%20of%20eBirdseed%20webcam.jpg

Alrighty then, with the illustration out of the way, still something nags... What to do with the cam??? Yes, yes, yes... The hummingbirds are cool indeed. But what else?

  • The camera, (like most cameras with small lenses) handles close-ups quite well. Perhaps we should encase it in a waterproof housing and perch it 2" away from our usual feeder. It would take a relay to get the signal back to the PC with the USB 802.11g 54Mbps adapter, but the technology is very doable.
  • Then again, as mentioned earlier, a fish cam at night could be cool. What would be really neat is an "inside-the-tank" cam looking out.
  • How about a "yard cam" that would focus on all of the back yard?

Ultimately, the challenge for this type of technology isn't the technology itself - it's trying to figure out how to use it. Put another way, if we could place a live-motion camera anywhere we wanted relative to birds, where would we put it? What perspective would you like to see?

Need some feedback here folks... (Else I'm going to use my imagination, and we all know that that ain't pretty...)

Waiting with the clapperboard over by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Interesting to note, that in less than 1 week into this eBirdseed.com cam project, we've had over 1,000 visitors on our CamStreams site. No doubt that more than a few of the camera hits were mine as I was testing the system. But beyond that, it also goes without saying that folks are tuning in...


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April 24, 2008

Experiment... Setting Up a Bird Web Cam

Hi,

Guess it had to happen... Whilst we have been taking (and will continue to take) some fantastic photos using the NovaBird and Olympus cameras, we still wanted to set up a real-time streaming bird video. Though this is certainly not a great novelty on the Web, it still sounds like a lot of fun! So let's outline the project and see if we can find some direction and perhaps uncover a few hints for others along the way... (Note: There are a ton of abbreviations and technoblab in here... If you're interested in this sort of thing, but new to the field, don't worry... Just get the "Big Picture" and then ask around... Remember, I answer all comments... You'll be fine...)

At this point in the project the crude drawing below is our roadmap. (We engineers use crude maps like this at the beginning of every project because we know that the scheme is going to change on a daily if not hourly basis.) Onward... The drawing depicts a USB bird-cam signal being tossed into a wireless local network, shoveled onto the Web, into eBirdseed.com, and finally resting right before your beady little eyes... Hmmm...

bird%20cam%20setup%20diagram.jpg

Reading the drawing from right to left (natch!), let's see what we've got...

  1. Birds are attracted to the window feeder. (Gotta love the drawing of the bird!)
  2. The USB 2.0 Web cam will capture real time as the birds eat, (or not...) We'll have to watch the camera angle for best viewing.
  3. The video signal will feed back into a PC with a wireless USB 802.11g, 54Mbps adapter.
  4. The PC/802.11g will in turn broadcast the signal to the 802.11g router...
  5. Next, the router uses cat 5 cables to dish off the signal to both the main PC and the cable modem.
  6. Once the video hits the cable modem, it rockets off into the fog of the Web/Internet and lands in eBirdseed.com.
But there's a serious consideration... How do we actually store the "broadcast" of the video itself? Well, it turns out that there's a service out there called Camstreams that offers just that sort of functionality. That will probably have to be installed on the computer in "Step 3" above. Once I get the cam working on my machines, I'll see if the boss wants to incorporate it into the eBirdseed.com site. If that proves impractical, I can probably link to the cam directly off this blog.

Anyway, this is all new to me, and no doubt there will be some mind bending in the process, but I'm betting that we'll get there just fine. I'll keep you posted.

See you by those ever-more-increasingly-visible feeders,

CapeCodAlan

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References

P.S. Now about that MP3-based bird song library I've been meaning to build...

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April 13, 2008

Backyard Birding and Global Warming

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Hi,

It's a wonderfully stormy night here on the Cape, and I snapped the photo above just a few minutes ago... But the shot brought to mind an issue that has been bugging me for a long time, and I wanted to get it out in the open with you folks...

Deep breath...

Well, if I haven't managed to tick off every reader whose eyes have ever skimmed over this blog, this entry should fill the roster rather nicely. Yup, I'm going to post on global warming... But before I go forward into the muck of public opinion, let me just remind the reader that I've had to dog paddle my way through the mud of both a liberal arts education, and an engineering education. And both disciplines drummed home the mantra that "real knowledge" (vs. the colloquial) is a tricky thing indeed. We no more "know" the human psyche and condition, than we know the nature of the universe. Freud, Sartre, and Skinner no more gave us final fact than did Newton, Einstein, or Hawking. They offered direction, but not final knowledge. In short, beware those who state that they know global warming is or is not a function of man-made greenhouse gasses, (or if it is even happening at all).

So what have we got concerning long-term environmental change?

  • We know that the climate of the earth is changing. That we can measure. Over time, we can photograph the changes in global weather patterns and environment from space.
  • We know that the chemicals we're spewing into the land, water and air are bad stuff. If one were stupid enough to eat three-day-old city snow, he'd learn right quick that this is bad mojo. (And that is a highly repeatable and consistent experiment.)
  • According to the EPA: Latest Findings on National Air Quality: 2000 Status and Trends Report, "The IPCC concluded that humans are changing the Earth’s climate, and that “there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.”"
  • Beyond the EPA report cited above, common sense would suggest that 6.6 billion people are taxing this old planet, as are the billions of tons of pollution we loft skyward every year.
So where is all this going? My point is that far too often, the debate concerning global warming simply reflects the scientific and social egotism of our time. Arrogance, agenda, and the oh-so-warm waters of righteous knowledge get in the way of the issue - that of the environment. Put another way, I'm suggesting that all too often we pull an "Al Gore" and trumpet the issue rather than personally addressing it. As backyard birders (and birders in general) we should be sensitive to all aspects of the environment, including global warming (whatever its causes) and act! So... Do you act? Do you carpool? Do you recycle? Do you telecommute? Do you use energy-saving appliances and lights? Do you check your car's tire pressures? Do you drive your car as infrequently as possible and share shopping chores with your neighbors? Do you keep your furnace clean??? Look, you know the drill...

I'll be taking care of the feeders even though I don't know whether it's the birds or the elements that are wearing at them... See you there maybe...

CapeCodAlan

P.S. As soon as one of the experts can repeatedly and reliably tell me what my local weather will be 14 days from now, I'll start to consider the feasibility of "knowing" the global warming conundrum a century hence. Until then, I'm just going to play it safe, avoid the politics, and do the right thing.

P.P.S. This was recently in the headlines: Who's Who on Inhofe's List of 400 Global Warming Deniers

P.P.P.S. Told you that I'd tick everyone off.

Sources:

EPA: Climate Change - Science - State of knowledge

U.S. Census Bureau: World POPClock Projection)

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April 11, 2008

A Painless Look at Backyard Birding Math

Hi,

I was thinking of giving this post the title, Suet and the Lonely City Housewives or Penultimate Fight Club Underneath the Feeders, but that just didn't seem honest. So here we stand, facing the dreaded "Math Beast". Oh, this is going to be worse than a root canal performed by Dr. Yank using a brass band as Novocaine! Let's just get it over with...

  • First on our list of terrors is a quick way for most readers to determine how much sunlight they have left towards the end of the day. All you need to do is turn towards the sun, extend your arm fully with your palm facing towards you and the bottom of your pinkie resting on the horizon, and count up the number of fingers until you hit the sun. Each finger represents around 10 minutes of remaining daylight. Obviously, you may have to change this technique depending on where you live, and the size of your hand, but that will at least put you in the ballpark. (Note! Staring at the sun can be harmful... I can't believe that people and their lawyers need these kinds of warnings...)
  • This next one is a knee knocker - using your hand to measure distant angles... Extend your arm and hand as above making sure that the bottom of your pinkie is level with your eye. Each finger represents about two degrees of arc. This comes in handy when trying to measure distances...
  • And speaking of distances, have you ever wondered how tall a tree was or pondered just how high up a certain bird perched? Yeah, a little bit of the old mean math can give you some idea... Take a look at the masterpiece below...

    Stick%20man%20measuring%20height%20of%20tree_400_final.jpg

    Here's the skinny... You can roughly determine the height of a tree or whatever using just a tape rule and your tootsies...

    1. Pace off ten or twenty strides and measure the distance. Repeat the process a couple of times. Next take the distance covered by the fixed number of strides and average. There... You now have a respectable tool for approximating significant distance.
    2. Onward... Pace away from the tree until you can hold out a bit of your tape rule such that a fixed length of vertical measure uniformly covers the tree from base to top. In the impressionistic work above, the travel equals 100 feet and the red tape rule reads just 6 inches.
    3. Now, note the distance from your eyes to the tape rule. In the case of our little stick-figure fellow with the long arm this seems to be about 18 inches.
    4. Convert all measurements to the same unit, (in this example feet).
    5. Warm up the theremin, 'cause we're coming down the home stretch! Multiply the size of the red ruler by the paced distance to the tree, and then divide the result by the eye-to-ruler measurement. In this case, that boils down to: (0.5' * 100')/1.5' ... Which equals 33.33' or 33' 4".
There, now that wasn't so bad was it? In fact, common house-hold sundries and a little bit of the not-so-vicious math will let you calculate small weights to a fraction of an ounce, figure diameters to hundredths of an inch, and wrestle warping down to the thousandths. Quite cool actually...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. If you'd care to see the math behind the formula above, email me... Much fun with similar triangles...

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March 11, 2008

Real Cooking 101

Hi,

Time to give the "PGA Isenhour Circus Hour" a break. Read that, "We've had enough birds and bird cruelty for a while... (And beyond that, the new Spitzer mess is just too weird for words.)

But while we're on the general issue of skewering institutions such as the Professional Golfers' Association, we might as well switch lanes and go after the ubiquitous "TV Chef"...

Yes, that's right; we're challenging the television cooking demigod's sanitary habits in the kitchen. (Mind you that I didn't dream up the following all by myself... Nope... This post is simply a reflection on a really bad experience, and a repeat of the stuff biology teachers and professors drove through my thick skull many moons ago.)

So how to introduce this post? Well...

Umpteen years ago, I was crossing the U.S. by car, and stopped at a huge truck stop/diner in Texas. Working on the assumption that "the truckers like it, so the food must be good", I ordered fried shrimp (which was delicious), and left... About 30 minutes later I was doing a great imitation of Linda Blair in the "Exorcist" ejecting pea soup, but only if Ms. Blair's character was terribly seasick, suffering from a blistering hangover, and wearing a thick wool suit (with no undergarments) on a scorching Texas day... Yeah, I got food poisoning alright... But why??? My guess is that a cook or server who dished up the shrimp failed to wash his or her hands after using the rest room. Yuck...

Anyway, it's in memory of that abdominal cataclysm, (and to give further voice to my biology teachers), that I offer these simple cooking safety tips. If you notice a bit of contempt for the boob-tube cooking icons, there's a reason for that. Onward to the tips!

  • Not to be completely disgusting, but to be completely disgusting, keep your hands and nails absolutely clean - especially after using the bathroom.
  • Wear a hair net or at least a cap. (See photo below for "weapons" in the war on kitchen filth.)

    clean%20kitchen_300.jpg

  • Keep your kitchen spotlessly clean.
  • Avoid wooden utensils like the plague. They're simply a germ factory in the making.
  • Wash hands constantly.
  • Wash dishes and silverware thoroughly in hot soapy water and rinse in hot water.
  • Treat raw meat, chicken, and fish as contaminants. Anything that touches that stuff (including your hands) becomes contaminated. For example, if you handle raw chicken and then give your hands a quick wipe on that dish towel on your shoulder (like they do on TV), not only are your hands and the dish towel contaminated, but so is everything else you/it touches.
  • Cook food to at least the minimum temperature as recommended by the Gateway to Government Food Safety Information site. This suggestion has a great upside... It gives you a reason to buy one of those cool digital cooking thermometers!
  • Don't cook when you're sick or have a cold.
  • Avoid the "taste and season, taste and season" method using the same spoon over and over again. (I guess the "Food Network" won't be calling me anytime soon.)
  • Don't be scrimy in the use of paper towels.
  • Don't just "wipe clean" spills... Use soap to really keep things sanitary.
  • Beware the old sponge!

You get the idea... Common sense is a good thing. Besides, if the truth be told, most of us occasionally eat food prepared in less than perfectly sanitary kitchens and we survive quite nicely. Still, cleaner is better, and imitating Linda Blair is most unpleasant.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. If you want to see how easy it is to spread contamination during cooking, try brewing beer!

P.P.S. Be sure to check out our rice recipes, my chowder recipe, and our New-York style pizza recipe contest!

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February 27, 2008

References for Backyard Birders

grackles1_400.jpg
Hi all,

Thought that the October, 2006 photo above (mass grackles) might be a fun way to start subject matter that some might consider slightly on the dry side - backyard birding references. (Please keep in mind that a new readership is coming on board with the Kindle wireless reading device, and they may not have seen these references before.)

In any event, what follows is a pretty decent collection of info for the backyard birder and the occasional day tripper, and well worth bookmarking IMHO...


Bird food:
Feeders (hanging, mounting, cleaning, etc.):
Human health:
Getting started:
Bird identification:
Birdhouses and wildlife interaction:
Technical (computers, cameras, Web, blogs, energy savings, etc.):
General bird resources:

See you by the well-informed feeders,

CapeCodAlan

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February 18, 2008

What's Gone Wrong with Young People Today? (Part 2 of 2)

As mentioned in part 1 of this post, given the NIU tragedy, we're going to stray a bit from the bird theme... But please read on... This is for everyone out there, but especially teachers, coaches, mentors, clergy, parents, friends - anyone who commonly deals with adolescents and young adults... Keep in mind that this is just two cents from a ton of experience and more than a bit of formal education in this stuff...

The ACLU estimates that only 5% to 10% of people on death row "... have a serious mental illness." And, it's a pretty safe bet that many of the young people who go berserk share a similar level of sanity as those on death row. So what's gone wrong with so many young people?

  • First, take a look at the "You're the most important person in the whole wide world" approach to child rearing. Somewhere starting in the late '40s, Dr. Spock wrote of a more compassionate form of raising children - a form of child rearing that focused on the child as an individual. In time, child psychologists started shouting even more loudly of the delicacy if the child psyche. (In many respects that philosophy continues to this day. In some areas, we fail to keep scores at child sports events, and everyone gets a trophy at sundown.) Unfortunately, many a young child with an artificially-bloated sense of self grows up to become a young adult with an artificially-bloated sense of self that does a lousy job of handling stuff like failure, rejection, and underachieving. Speaking as a tutor and teacher, I've seen hundreds of young adults pop off because algebra or calculus proved troubling. And these folks weren't just frustrated... They were genuinely angry at what they saw as an unfair (and useless) assault on their "most important" intellect.
  • The second issue is that of the trend toward "Questioning all things respected" or "Embrace the concept of rebellion for rebellion's sake"... Doubt this is an issue, and it's obvious that you haven't walked through the food court in the mall lately. The language and the subject matter openly bandied by so many teens is simply shocking... Look folks, I gotta tell ya that I'm no prude, (understatement of all time). But there's a time, place, and particular audience for all things adult, and the sweep of the food court ain't it. Far too often, there is complete contempt on the part of young people in their willingness (even eagerness) to expose others (children and seniors especially) to traditionally adult, bawdy, private discussion. And the lack of respect for others certainly doesn't stop with just language.
  • The last contributing factor involves the violence of today's vile multimedia. Not much to say here... Just watch the Sci Fi channel on a Saturday afternoon or evening... Just listen to rap... Just watch pro wrestling and ultimate fighting...The levels and quantities of gratuitous brutality young people are exposed to are simply off the scales.
And there you have it. Contemptuous anger expressed brutally. Obviously, the old demon of mental illness underscores much of youth violence just as it always has. But that demon has multiple modern Stygians of our own making.

Sad by the feeder,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Next time let's see if we can't rummage through some of our better bird pics... But right now, let's just turn off the one-eyed brain bandit in the living room and perhaps send an email or two to appropriate corporate parties, or maybe even talk with the young people in our lives and find out what they're really thinking.

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November 18, 2007

The November 2007 California Oil Spill

At roughly 8:30 AM, November 7th, the 902 foot class "A" cargo carrier "Cosco Busan" traveling at apx. 11 knots hit the center tower of the California Bay Bridge, spilling some 58,000 gallons of "bunker fuel" into San Francisco Bay. (Bunker fuel is the thick, smelly byproduct of gasoline production.) From what I've been reading, at least 1,000 birds are already dead, and another thousand are undergoing rescuers' "best efforts"... As for how many thousands of birds and other wildlife will die due to this disaster... Who knows?

But I guess we all know what's involved regardless of the location...

oil%20birds_400.jpg
Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council


On my last post, Rick commented that he was disappointed that I failed to mention this spill, and in retrospect, I think he was right. Hence this entry. But that leads to a "bigger" issue ... What do I write about and how much attention do I give to wildlife news items vs. backyard bird stuff?
  • Do I report on the "Cosco Busan" spill? Should I dedicate an entire post to it as I did here?
  • What about the very recent November 11th "Volganeft-139" spill in the Kerch Strait? (The California mishap loosed roughly 200 tons of oil, whereas the Kerch Strait disaster unleashed at least ten times that much oil and has already killed 30,000 birds.)
  • And then there is the even more recent November 15th cyclone "Sidr" that pretty much flattened coastal Bangladesh, killing over 2,000 people, and bringing with it unimaginable damage to the local wildlife.
So here's the deal... Some disasters are so close to home here in the states that we (eBirdseed.com) cannot ignore them. The California wildfires were one such calamity; hurricane Katrina was another. These were not just ruinous to the wildlife but claimed human victims as well. (And as a reminder, it's still not too late to help the folks on the "left coast".) But the bottom line is that I need to hear from more people like Rick who will tell me what they want from this blog, local or otherwise.

To bring this full circle... What can we do to address the California "Cosco Busan" spill specifically, and how can we get the most "bang" for our donated buck? Hmmm... I used The American Institute of Philanthropy and Charity Navigator, and found that The Conservation Fund has great promise. They distribute funds to all 50 states, and they're certainly worth a phone call or an email to see if you can earmark a donation to a specific cause.

Better wrap this one up... Thanks again to Rick for bringing this to the foreground...

See you by the feeders,

Alan

References used for this post:
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October 31, 2007

Bats!

little%20brown%20bats%20final.jpg


Boo!

Happy Halloween all,

First things first...

Here's yet another reminder... The tragedy on the west coast hasn't gone away simply because it's no longer in the media... Learn more here. Once again, note how the numbers have changed for the worse... 16 dead, 85 hurt, and 2,800 uninsured or underinsured homes and businesses that don't just rebuild themselves...

Onward...

Thought we might take a quick look at the ubiquitous "Little Brown Bat" (Myotis lucifugus and aka "LBB").

Little%20Brown%20Bat_picture.jpg

The above is a public domain image from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The photographer is Don Pfitzer.


As you probably know, bats aren't birds. Birds belong to the Aves class, whereas bats (including the Little Brown Bat) belong to the Mammalia class. As the class name implies, LBBs are mammals, and unlike birds they are born live, (not hatched), have hair, and have sweat glands, (including those used to produce milk). Stuff you might not know about these little suckers, (sorry... couldn't resist the pun):
  • They are common around the world
  • For those of you in the New England area, LBB brethren include:
    • Eastern Small-footed Bat, (Myotis leibii)
    • Northern Long-eared Bat, (Myotis septentrionalis)
    • Indiana Bat, (Myotis sodalis)
    • Silver-haired Bat, (Lasionycteris noctivagans)
    • Eastern Pipistrelle, (Perimyotis subflavus)
    • Big Brown Bat, (Eptesicus fuscus)
    • Eastern Red Bat, (Lasiurus borealis)
    • Hoary Bat, (Lasiurus cinereus)
  • Little brown bats can live 30 years or more
  • They can see quite well, (though they still do use echolocation)
  • During winter, LBBs both migrate to warmer areas and hibernate, (during hibernation the typical bat will reduce its heart rate from 200 beats per minute to 20)
  • On a good night, a typical bat can eat 250 bugs (mosquitoes, moths, beetles, etc.) within 15 minutes
  • LBB colonies can range in size up to a maximum of 1,000
  • Because a single colony of little brown bats can devour 250,000 bugs in a single feast, farmers are increasingly using them for pest control
  • And no, they don't get tangled in people's hair
See you by those "boo-tiful" feeders,

CapeCodAlan

Below is a list of the resources I used for this post (and others).
  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology -- This is the "Big Daddy" of the birding sites. And its complexity reflects that of its subject matter. It's well worth spending a few hours roaming around this project.
  • Wikipedia -- From "hum" to "hummingbird", Wikipedia has got you covered...
  • Audubon Society -- For me, this site is good, but could be better. Its "About Birds" takes the reader from plates depicting the digestive tracts of birds, to the birds themselves... My bottom line is that I just don't find the interface that intuitive.
  • U.S. Geological Survey -- The USGS entry is good, but suffers from the same sort of convoluted interface as the Audubon site... There's a wealth of information in there, but you'll need to dig for it.
  • MSN Encarta -- Good old Microsoft Encarta... This is a nice "general use" resource.
  • The National Audubon Society’s “The Sibley Guide to Birds” -- When it comes to bird books, this is (in my opinion) the Holy Grail. The binding, color drawings, scope, detail... It's all great. This book sells for around $35, and belongs in every person's library whether or not she or he is a birder. Hats off to David Allen Sibley.
  • Peterson's "A Field Guide to the Birds" -- Before Sibley, there was Roger Tory Peterson... And, his work too is a masterstroke. I've got the 1947 edition of his book... It's old and it's tired, but still a "must own" regardless of the year.
  • ”Birds of New England” from Smithsonian Handbooks -- Fred J. Alsop III and the Smithsonian have really done a superb job of documenting and illustrating the birds of the northeast.
  • Chapman's "Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America" -- This is a more scholarly text complete with black and white illustrations.
  • ”Birds Of North America” published by Golden -- A smaller book, this works well as a good field guide.


Also, the following two, "more coffee-table" books deserve mention...

  • "Birdwatching" from publisher "Discovery Travel Adventures".
  • Ortho Books' "How to Attract Birds".
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October 22, 2007

Bird Flu, Staph Infections, Lyme Disease, the Common Cold, and You

Hi,

Well, I guess we need to discuss this... The media is crawling with stories of bird flu, and all sorts of other nasty medical conditions. Here's the skinny, short and sweet.

  • Before all else, visit your doctor. Tell her of your concerns regarding issues like bird flu, staph, Lyme Disease, colds, and only you know what else. (Besides... Be honest... You're late getting your prostate, breast, or cholesterol test done aren't you?) Also be sure to take a copy of this to let your physician give it a review.
  • After you talk with your doctor... Act! Follow her directions as well as the directions on all medications and treatments.
  • That out of the way, let's talk details about problems you might encounter in the backyard.
    • Bird flu: Thankfully, exposure to local birds and feeders in America poses virtually no threat. Still, for the sake of clarification... There are 16 variants of this virus, (the "H5N1" seems to be the strain that's currently posing the greatest risk to humans, (Center for Disease Control). Due to possible feeder contact, after feeding the birds simply wash your hands for 30 seconds using warm water and soap.
    • Staph infections: This is a more realistic threat, though not from your birds. The spread of staph infections is typically due to exposure to the bacteria via other humans. To greatly reduce the threat, simply wash your hands for 30 seconds using warm water and soap after any possible exposure.
    • Lyme disease: Lyme disease is a heavy hitter, and is spread by ticks. If you step out to fill the feeders and later notice that a tick has decided to call your person "home"... Relax... Take a good look at the little bugger. If you can see its head and all 8 legs, simply use tweezers to remove it by grasping its head and pulling gently. What you don't want to do is squeeze its body and in doing so empty the parasites that are in its gut into your bloodstream. But whether you remove the tick or not, save the wee beastie and stop by the local emergency room, fire department, or give your doctor a call promptly... Those folks will put the issue to rest pronto.
    • The common cold: Obviously, this has nothing to do with birds, but while I'm here... Wanna know the cure to the common cold? Here it is in 5 easy steps...
      1. Never sniffle. There's a reason why your body is trying to expel the mucous that it skimmed off the cilia in your lungs and out of your sinuses. And that reason has nothing to do with you sniffling and dragging all that junk back down into your throat.
      2. Any time you use the bathroom, wash your hands for 30 seconds using warm water and soap. (Do you note a theme here?)
      3. Prior to eating or snacking, wash your hands for 30 seconds using warm water and soap. (There's that theme again.)
      4. When you go shopping, (or go to the gym, visit the mall, etc...) Keep an antiseptic mist (below) or towelette at the ready. (Your doctor or pharmacist can help you here.)

        Small%20sanitizer_342.JPG


        Obviously, common sense goes a long way.
      5. Try to keep your hands away from your face... Just because you pay attention to hygiene doesn't mean that others do.
As I said at the beginning of this... Here's the skinny, short and sweet... Using common sense and cleanliness, feeding the birds is about as safe as safe can get.

See you by those harmless feeders,

CapeCodAlan

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October 13, 2007

Crow Brains

Hi gang,

This post is going to be a strange mix of two common themes used in this blog - namely "Weird Bird News" and "Amateur Ornithologist". Let's get started...

We've talked about bird intelligence before, (Birds and Souls, and Bird of the Week: The Crow), but maybe it's time to dig in a little bit. I want to focus on the brain of a crow specifically. (Crows are members of the Corvidae family, and have close relatives such as jays, ravens, and magpies.)

For starters, watch the next video carefully. The crow bends a wire into a hook in order to retrieve food... As far as we know, that makes the crow the first toolmaker (aside from humans) that has the intellectual "horsepower" to invent tools spontaneously in non-wilderness conditions.



(If the window above doesn't work in your browser, look at it directly on YouTube here: Crow making tool.)

And then there's...

So what in the name of Sam Hill is going on here? Well, there are a couple of considerations concerning possible crow intelligence. First, understand that sheer brain size does not equate to intelligence. It is in fact the ratio of the brain mass to the total body mass that offers some IQ indicator. (More accurately, that ratio is referred to the "Encephalization Quotient" or EQ.) Put another way, large animals need large brains to regulate temperature, breathing, control muscles, etc. Unfortunately, as animals get larger, they tend to have disproportionately smaller brains, or lower EQs. In general, the non-aquatic creatures with the best brain to body ration are the higher primates, with humans at the top. But following closely behind (and possibly even in front of the great apes depending on how one measures the EQ) are the corvids and some parrots... Hmmm... And what's the second consideration concerning crow intelligence? Take a look at the crow brain below.

Crows%20brain_FINAL.jpg

(Original image from: Nova Science Now... Bird Brain).

Note the three large pallium areas in the front of the organ, (the hyperpallium, the mesopallium, and the nidopallium). Think of those puppies as the "crow equivalent" of the prefrontal cortex in humans... The job of "them guys" is to handle complex cognitive stuff, express individuality, and also to orchestrate social behavior. Now... Look at the picture below. Look at the forehead on the crow.

DSC_0110_500_enh.jpg


Kinda sizable ain't it? The fact is that not only do crows have a great EQ, they also have a great set of palliums. Say no more!

I'll leave you with this... Crows are bright... Studies indicate that chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans have clearly got winged competition. No doubt about it. But here's the mystery... Why did two radically different brain structures obtain roughly equal capabilities??? The article below is a fabulous read addressing this.

The Mentality of Crows: Convergent Evolution of Intelligence in Corvids and Apes by Nathan J. Emery1 and Nicola S. Clayton

See you by those crafty, social feeders...

CapeCodAlan
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October 7, 2007

How to Afford Birdseed, (Part 2) and a Question...

Hi,

Before we start talking about saving money, Mrs. CapeCodAlan and I have a question for you folks... Below is a picture of a hawk taken in Harwich MA, Oct. 1, 2007... What type of hawk is it? (We think we know, but we'd like your opinions!)

coopers%20hawk_02_305.jpg


Onward!

Let's see... When last we met we were talking about saving money so that you can afford food for both your birds and yourself. As promised, I'm going to let you in on a few "energy-conservation secrets" from the shadowy world of a retired plumber's helper...

  • Actually follow through on government energy conservation tips... Any contractor will tell you that the site I mentioned, (U.S. Department of Energy, Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home) is going to save you a ton of money.
  • Pay for initial consulting to assess your home or apartment's energy efficiency... Ask trusted friends, neighbors, co-workers, clergy, real estate agents, etc. for the name of a reputable home inspector, contractor, or handyman. Don't blink at spending $100 or more at this stage of the game. That $100 can save you thousands down the road.
  • Once a problem area has been exposed (for example, the heating system), call in the appropriate expert for a consultation and ask what you can do to prep the work area... Yes, this too may cost $100, but it can save you $500 and up. (Years ago, my boss and I went to what we thought would be a "simple clogged-toilet job". When we got to the house, we discovered a cluttered, dirty home crawling with small children and a bathroom with a quarter of an inch of standing, filthy water on the floor. What should have been a simple 1-hr job turned into a 4-hr ordeal. The homeowner paid dearly for that.)
  • Offer "sweat equity"... But only do so when you can be more of a help than a hindrance. (Admit outright that you're woefully ignorant, and that you'll simply do precisely what you're told to do.) Example... The wife and I are replacing our old wood/coal burning stove (pictured below) with a high-efficiency gas fireplace insert.

    Picture%20of%20entire%20sove_300.jpg

    And one of the uglier jobs in the process is to bore a 1.5" hole through both sides of a cement block located roughly 6 feet off the basement floor as an entry point for the flexible gas piping. To have a pro do it, that's time consuming and therefore expensive. Instead, we bored the holes ourselves and saved quite a few bucks...

    drilling%20block_300.jpg

    No one said it was going to be easy!


  • Be proactive, and be timely... Don't let small energy inefficiencies grow into nightmare energy problems, and then call in the pros. You'll pay for that in more ways than one. Contractors really don't like fixing needless messes.
  • Offer to barter... Better to spend 4 hrs helping a contractor get his computer running (or getting his garden in order, or performing a root canal, or doing what ever you do) than plunking down for 240 minutes on the couch, watching the one-eyed brain bandit, eating pie, and then writing out a $500 check.
  • If your oil or electric heating system is on its last BTUs... Contact the local gas company. Sometimes, there are deals to be had if you agree to switch over to gas. At last check, the local Cape Cod gas company would provide a new "conversion" customer with a top-end furnace for apx. $500 delivered on site...
  • Watch for discounts on energy efficient windows... Some gas companies also offer coupons on energy-saving windows.
Improvements such as those mentioned above will likely be expensive at the outset, but will immediately improve your quality of living, and in the long run probably save you $$$.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan
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September 23, 2007

On a More Serious Note

Hi all,

I'm going to shift gears here quite a bit...

Right off the bat, this post is going to discuss death and be "adult" in nature. I know some people struggle with the subject... If you're one of those folks, you might want to come back in a few days and check out the next post. I promise that the next one won't be so somber. (Though I'll do my best to "lighten" this one up as well.)

Alrighty then... If you've made it this far, here's what prompted this article... A couple of weeks ago we had a bird hit the glass slider on our deck. My guess is that we had a hawk come through and he spooked the birds. (Sometimes, all the curtains and suncatchers in the world aren't going to stop a meeting situation between bird and glass.) Regardless, there lay a grackle with legs straight up, deader than Julius Caesar. It was that event, (and a few others of the personal type) that started this discussion. Put quite simply, it's reasonable that we have a bit of a chat on the subject of death, if you choose to read on... But before that...

I've got another issue with which to deal before that chat... Should you be sick, don't think that I'm a "crepe hanger"... Exactly the opposite... The fields of medicine, science, and technology are growing so fast that the odds for survival literally change for the better on a daily basis... In the real world, I'm an engineer and researcher... Please trust me... There is always significant, concrete hope.

So where does that lead to? It leads to a group of adults (us) discussing that day (far, far away) when Ol' Mr. Fate taps us on the shoulder, and says, "It's time to go."

In particular, I want to offer my thoughts concerning my (and possibly your) earthly remains. But I can only speak for myself here... Only for myself...

The simple fact is that right now, about 90,000 Americans are waiting for organ donations, and more than 3,000 Americans pass each year waiting for an organ transplant. Further, there's a significant number of biology, and medical students waiting to use human remains for study purposes...

My $.02? Sit down with family, close friends, clergy, and talk out how you want to handle that distant day. Make up your mind. Then go to your lawyer and your local funeral director and take care of business. I know it ain't gonna be fun... Think of it as an emotional equivalent of a root canal. Just get it done.

I told you at the beginning of this that I was going to keep this as light as possible. Well, let me tell you of my ultimate demise...

I'm going to shed these earthly bonds on my 125th birthday. I'll be surrounded by a bevy of the latest, hottest "Bunny Babes", and my poor old ticker will go on strike in protest. (I figure it will either be that or Mrs. CapeCodAlan will crush my skull with a frying pan when she catches me with said bevy of the latest, hottest "Bunny Babes".)

Seriously, I don't think anyone would blame anyone for making a careful decision involving things like a traditional burial, organ donation, cremation, donating one's own remains to science, etc. But I do think that we as a society are reaching the point where we deem it a bit cruel for an individual not to make thoughtful preparations for the "Swan Song".

See the conversation even a dead bird can spark?

So, I'll see you by the feeder, and I'll be waiting for those "Bunny Babes"!

rabbit%2005-05-07_04_enhanced_400.jpg


Not those bunnies!!!

CapeCodAlan
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September 4, 2007

Quick Compact Camera Review for the Backyard Birder

Hi,

In the past we took a sweeping look at digital cameras... (Gerry's Questions About Bird Photography, Digital Cameras, and the NovaBird, etc. (Part 1 of 2), Gerry's Questions About Bird Photography, Digital Cameras, and the NovaBird, etc. (Part 2 of 2))

Now, let's look at one in particular.

A couple of months ago, the wife and I picked up a Vivitar 8600s. It's a small camera, as the photo below clearly shows...

Camera%20with%20deck%20of%20cards_400_enh.jpg


Understand, we did our research on Amazon.com. (Hint... Reread How Do I Become a Backyard Birder?) and found that it was a decent little package... 8.1 megapixels, 6X optical zoom...

Obviously, available space on this post prohibits me from exploring all the intricate features of this camera. (Though should you want all the details, I will happily "knuckle-drag" my way through them, just as I did for Gerry above.) Anyway, I'll just describe the camera in the "Auto", "Macro and Super Macro" and "Scn" modes. Let's take a look...

The following photo was taken at around 40 yds using the patio deck rail as a pseudo rest for the Vivitar set in the "Auto" mode.

09-04-07_crow03_vivitar_400_enh.jpg


That shot certainly is nothing to write home about, but it is good enough to serve as a pleasant reminder of a pleasant afternoon spent in the back yard.

Now let's take a quick look at the "Macro" and "Super Macro" modes. This is a photo of the top of a dime. Not bad at all...

Close_up_dime_Vivitar_1_400.jpg


To be honest, I can't remember which mode I used to get this next photograph, but no doubt that the quality of the camera (especially used at short distances) is quite apparent... Here are more details of that same dime...

Extreme_Close_up_dime_Vivitar_1_400.jpg


Now we're getting somewhere... But what of the "Scn" mode? Well, the "Scene" mode offers presets (shutter speed, aperture, etc.) for 16 unique conditions such as sunrise, movement, night, etc. The following is an example of a photo using the "Black and White Scene" mode...

black%20and%20white_400.jpg


And here's a zoom shot of the computer screen in the photo above...

black%20and%20white_close_up.jpg


There are probably a few "bottom lines" that would concern the back yard birder interested in exploring photography with a small, relatively inexpensive digital camera...
  • Today's small digital cameras are loaded with features. (I never even mentioned audio or video.)
  • For close-up work, they can produce some very impressive results.
  • Taking into account the small size of the lens, distance shots are always going to be a challenge.
  • No doubt that given the same subject and the same camera, a professional photographer like California Kathryn would have made adjustments to the "f stop" the shutter speed, the focus, (and who knows what else!) And a far better series of photos would have emerged. Still, compact cameras are probably never going to be able to challenge Ansel Adams (regardless of how many megapixels they have), but they can at least hold their own.
Hope this helps,

CapeCodAlan
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August 13, 2007

Amateur Ornithology - Part Two: Problem-Solving Crows and Other Animals

Alrighty then, where were we? Oh yeah, we were talking about stuffing the most stuff (maxima) in a fixed area or volume, (including a crow's beak)... Let's take another look at the crow with the efficiently-stored french fries...

Crow--fries with that_enhanced_400_232.jpg

Without drowning in the "Sea of Epistemology" (the philosophy of thought), it's important to understand the difference between instinctual behavior and genuine thinking. An example of instinctual behavior would be that of baby robins clamoring for a worm from mom. Those who fight for the worm get the worm, grow up, breed, and pass along the "fight for the worm when you're a chick" gene; those young who don't fight for the worm die in the nest. That's classic Darwinian "survival of the fittest" instinct, and not "thinking per se". The hallmark of thinking is the ability for a mind (organic or inorganic) to be repeatedly faced with a wholly new class or flavor of problem and solve that problem in a reasonable and timely fashion. The crow with the french fries is clearly solving a problem with great order and speed... Ditto for the one below, who is trying to find/make the largest hunk of pizza that he can get airborne. (It's hilarious to watch the crows hopping up and down, testing their load before finally taking wing!)

crow%20with%20pizza%20in%20mouth2_enh_400.jpg


So what are the repercussions of thinking crows? Well, two spooky ones come to mind.
  • The first has to do with how crows swipe popcorn. Initially, they scatter it out, and then they study it. Finally, they carefully "pack" it into their beaks. The weird part is that popcorn is pretty much a randomly shaped cargo, and still crows are very adept at storing the most "bang for the beak" if you will. And that leads into the voodoo world of "fuzzy sets and fuzzy logic" in which complex problems are the stuff of the vague.
  • The second spooky repercussion has to do with the possible personality behind such intellects... Consider Toby, our cat.

    Ugly_Beast_300_enh.jpg

    Let's just say that Toby is... Ahhh... Ummm... Well... Toby is both "cognitively and courageously challenged". (He runs into things repeatedly, refuses to eat seafood but likes to eat string, and Mrs. CapeCodAlan's sneezes scare the snot out of him. After three years of practice, he still struggles to open a door that has been left ajar.) Given that as a backdrop, Toby does something that makes absolutely no Darwinian sense. When the wife sneezes, the cat initially starts to run away, but skulks back. There isn't a reason on earth for Toby to do this... (Suzie isn't the male alpha in the house... The situation is threatening to him... It's clearly not an issue of curiosity, but rather that of concern...) In short, Toby chooses to do an unselfish and loving thing. So, if Toby has the character and personality to do that... What about clever birds like crows?
Ok, ok, alright... Enough already... I'll lay off the esoteric (boring) stuff for a while, and see what else I can find...

See you by those Mensa feeders,

CapeCodAlan
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August 11, 2007

NovaBird Remote Camera Review

Hi all,

As some of you know, many of the pictures used on this site were taken by the NovaBird remote camera. The familiar shot below is just such a photo...

Crow%20giving%20the%20eye.jpg


So after taking literally thousands of snapshots with the camera, here are my impressions, both good and bad:

Pro:
  • When the conditions are right, it takes a superb picture. Check out our Flickr Library.
  • Usage is simple...
    1. Make sure the camera contains a blank SD memory card.
    2. Plunk down the camera 15" away from the desired "paparazzi zone". (I typically use a tripod.)
    3. Hook up the battery.
    4. Turn on the camera.
    5. Go away.
    6. Come back after nature's actors have put on their show.
    7. Remove the memory card and replace it with an empty one, (or break the system down and take it indoors).
    8. Use the SD reader in your computer to view, save, and clear the bird pics off the SD card.
    9. Go back to step 1.
  • The camera is fairly cheap... $80... Add to that a tripod and a couple of SD 256 MB memory cards, and we're talking $175 ballpark.
  • The NovaBird looks to be rugged enough, but I'm never happy with plastic latches, hinges, etc. However, the ones on this camera seem sufficient.
  • The battery has no problem providing 6 hours of continuous usage, and recharges overnight.
Con:
  • The camera likes to take pictures when the conditions are wrong. That is to say that any movement in front of the camera (or the camera itself moving) will trigger a photo. This morning alone, the camera took 659 snapshots, of which only 34 were of value. And pawing through 600 images simply takes time.
  • Setup is simple, but the battery pack leaves a lot to be desired. It's supposed to look like a rock. To be honest, it looks like a human brain. (In fact, the wife and I call it "The Brain".) And it's all too easy to forget to hook up the battery pack.
  • While the camera is cheap, it's only a matter of time before a new model comes out with features such as a better and larger lens, the ability to adjust the focal length and shutter speed, and a built in battery.
I'll leave this review with a final thought... The familiarization process (for us at least) with the NovaBird camera took the following steps:

First: Ok, first we decided that it really does work, and it's capable of producing some pretty good pictures.
Second: Next came the realization that with a bit of care, the camera is capable of taking some very respectable pictures.
Third: Once we had the system in place, we could digitally capture any common bird we wanted in most (if not all) of its glory.
Forth: With hundreds of pictures of the usual feeder suspects tucked away... What was next?
Fifth: The only real challenge left was to go for images of creatures who really defy photography...

DSC_0002_enh_400.jpg


There you go...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Tune in next time to see amateur ornithology, crows' beaks, calculus, french fries, intelligence, and good ol' Mr. Darwin all come crashing together! Wheee Hawww!!!
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July 29, 2007

Decoys and Miniatures

The clock is ticking! (The Great Haiku and Algebra Bird Feeder Contest!) ends at 11:59PM EST on August 3rd, 2007. There's still plenty of time to enter, but hustle is a good idea.

Other stuff...

Feeding the birds has an interesting effect on most people - in general they become more aware of the birds around them. It also leads people into interests that they may never would have considered. Take for instance the picture below...

ducks%20in%20a%20row_400.jpg


Obviously, the wife has taken to collecting bird carvings, and figurines. The ones above are:
  • 3 duck decoys by John A. Mulak of Yarmouth on Cape Cod. They were carved in the '60s or '70s. It looks like we have:
    • A Blue-winged Teal
    • A Hooded Merganser drake
    • A Hooded Merganser hen
  • A Puffin miniature, carved by June Noll of Brewster on Cape Cod in 1987
  • A Jim Shore composite rooster, from the Heartwood Creek collection. (The pattern is now retired.)
Yeah, yeah, I know... Boring. But did you know that a decent Elmer Crowell decoy will sell for $10,000 to $20,000. (A new record was established in November of 2006 when one of Crowell's works sold for $830,000.) And bird replicas can be pretty good investments too. A Bowman that sold for $10,000 in 1973 went for $464,000 in 2000.

Yeah, that caught your eye didn't it. The bottom line is that if you know what you're doing, there's money in them thar wooden birds! Here are some artisan names to look out for...
  • Crowell
  • Lapham
  • Clark
  • Tremblay
  • Mason (a factory)
  • Pratt (another factory)
  • Lincoln
  • Boyd
And a quick google will tell you of upcoming decoy auctions in your area. The wife likes to watch the middle to late part of the summer, and right into the early fall.

Let's just say that a little bird told ya right by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan
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June 19, 2007

Gerry's Questions About Bird Photography, Digital Cameras, and the NovaBird, etc. (Part 2 of 2)

Hi all,

First things first… Don’t forget our new contest is ongoing, but it ends precisely at 11:59 PM EST, June 30th, 2007.

Back to the usual stuff...

I spent considerable time worrying over the detail of this post... Part of me wanted to just pop this one out... But it just shouldn't work that way...

If you think back to the June 5, 2007 entry (Building a Post), Gerry basically had three questions:

  • "I would like to know what setting do you take the photos at?"
  • "Specifically, now that Digital Cameras can record at 10 megapixels and up, it makes for better photos... but not for the web since the web has an issue with the larger file sizes that result from higher megapixel settings."
  • "I read a lot about "Optimizing" photos for web use. How does that work for this blog?"


I sort of stumbled around the first two questions and left the last for this post. (There's a very good reason for this... The real explanation for "optimizing" photos is fairly technical. If you're not "into" the technical, the rest of this post will probably bore you.) With that, here's the deal with photography (especially digital) and the Web...

As I see it, there are four definitions/considerations that get all jumbled. They are:

  • Pixels/Pixels Per Inch (PPI): The word "pixels" stands for the phrase "picture elements". In fact, a pixel is more than just a finite element - it's more an equation than a fixed quantity. Probably the best way to look at pixels is to look at their source - typically a digital camera or a scanner. (For the sake of this post, I'll "focus" on cameras, and particularly the NovaBird.) When you take a picture with a camera, the analog image passes through the lens, through the image sensor, then is exposed to a CCD or CMOS matrix, which completes its journey from the real world of analog to the digital world of pixels. The size of the matrix determines the size of the shot in pixels. Depending on the number of bits used to describe the pixel further controls the size of the final image in the camera. In the case of the NovaBird, the raw image is 2,048 x 1,536 = apx. 3 million pixels (a.k.a. 3 megapixels).

    And if only the discussion were to end there, this issue just might appeal to common sense. But it doesn't end there. In fact, the confusion is just beginning.


    The number of computer bits (8 bits make up one byte) used to describe a pixel varies, but I'll use the 24 bit standard... That means that each pixel is described by 3 bytes, and that a 3 megapixel photo is in fact around 10 megabytes (MB) in size. (Ever wonder why bmp files are so big?) Unfortunately, 10 megabytes is big... Real big. (To put that in perspective, we use a 256 MB SD RAM card in the Nova', and if we tried to store 10 MB files, the camera would only hold about 25 pics.) Uh oh... So here's the deal... The camera automatically compresses the raw image into an efficient format (*.jpg) that will occupy only 0.5 MB - that way the SD card can hold around 500 images. (If you want to know more about data compression, just use the "comment" button below.)
    Can you see the water starting to muddy?


    Now we have a 0.5MB jpg file which holds 10MB of image information which is 2,048 pixels wide, and we want to cast it upon a monitor/video card/video driver that supports a max of 1,600 pixels side to side (PPI). Oh goody. Needless to say that programs like Microsoft Office Picture Manager play some cute mathematical games when it comes to making a single image "fit" the screens of a Mac, a PC, a laptop, all at the same time...

    Yes, the water gets muddier still. Onward.


  • Human eye: So what is acceptable for decent graphic presentation on a computer (let alone Web optimization, as Gerry asked)? Well the average human eye can discern the slightest color change in roughly 300 PPI (or 1" of display showing a gradient of 300 slightly different pixels).
  • Computer Monitor: This is where the fun goes goofy. For computer screens, the typical pixel sizes are apx. 0.4mm (0.016") square... The really bad news is that computer screens usually have a max resolution of 90 PPI. (Classically, Macs are 72, and PCs are 96 PPI). Doubt it? Check out the duplicate picture(s) below.

    72Left_vs_250Right_400.jpg
    The photo on the left was saved at a resolution of 72 "DPI" vs. the picture on the right that was saved at 250 "DPI". (See the next item for a rant on "DPI".) See any difference? Nope. They're pretty much identical. That's because today's PC monitors adjust everything to ~ 96 PPI.
  • Printers (DPI): As if all this wasn't confusing enough, the measure of "Dots Per Inch" (DPI) gets thrown into the mix, and is confused with PPI. Let's get this clear... PPI is the land of cameras, scanners, and monitors. DPI resides in "Printer World". Contrary to what the kid down at the Big Box Appliance and Computer store tells you, PPI does not equal DPI. DPI is a measure of the number of dots of ink a printer can lay down to create a certain image resolution. And the higher the original PPI, the more the picture can be expanded and printed on a printer with a fixed DPI. (Ever wonder why some pictures can be blown up and printed while others just look like crud? Now you know.)
So Gerry (if you're still awake), the way that pictures are "optimized" for the Web is a process of taking the picture at a reasonable resolution (PPI), sizing and "enhancing" it to adjust the brightness, colors, sharpness, etc., to match the original subject, and then saving it at a resolution matching that of the destination monitor. Typically that would be 96 PPI.

Do I do that? Naw! I try to work at 250 PPI. Why? Because the image sizes that we work with are 300 - 400 pixels max on a side. The eBirdseed server can handle the load. True, they're higher resolution, and that won't be at all different on your screen right now... But just wait... HD monitors are coming, and when they arrive, this blog will be waiting with open arms. Also every picture in the New England Bird Picture Library is roughly 250 PPI, which means that folks can download those pictures (for free), and use them without fear of early "pixelization". How's that for a value-added blog?

I'll be leaning on the tripod over by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. And just how good are pictures saved at such high resolutions? Take a look, but be patient.
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June 13, 2007

Gerry's Questions About Bird Photography, Digital Cameras, and the NovaBird, etc. (Part 1 of 2)

Mealworm Giveaway Update: Only 3 cans left... Ummm... Now there're only 2 cans left... Better hurry!

On the June 6th post of this year (Building a Post), Gerry entered a very interesting comment. In it, he asked the following.

"...I would like to know what setting do you take the photos at? Specifically, now that Digital Cameras can record at 10 megapixels and up, it makes for better photos... but not for the web since the web has an issue with the larger file sizes that result from higher megapixel settings. I read a lot about "Optimizing" photos for web use. How does that work for this blog..."

I'll take these questions/issues one at a time as best I can...
  1. "I would like to know what setting do you take the photos at?" Believe it or not, probably 95% of the photos taken by the old Olympus 2100 are shot using either the default automatic mode or in the macro mode. When the camera wants to cooperate, the results can be stunning.

    P5080020_400.jpg

  2. "Specifically, now that Digital Cameras can record at 10 megapixels and up, it makes for better photos... but not for the web since the web has an issue with the larger file sizes that result from higher megapixel settings." Whew... Tough point. As I understand it, a high resolution picture (e.g. 1,600 x 1,200 pixels, originally shot by the 3.0 megapixel automatic camera) can be cropped and "shrunk" to 400 x 354 (like the one below) with no loss of quality.

    P8240001_400.jpg


    However, the opposite is not true - a low-res picture becomes "pixilated" or digitally blurred when it is expanded to a large size. By way of analogy, you can take a quality, poster-sized photo and shrink it down to a postage-stamp-sized object. But you can't blow a newspaper comic up to the size of a poster - the visual information simply isn't intrinsic to the comic. So, while it's quite true that we really have to resize photos to speed up the Web site page download, we also needed to find a way for the public to openly access our entire photo library in all its sizable glory. That's why we stored almost all our pictures (1,241 photos and climbing) on the photo collection site Flickr. And what's just as important is that each photo is available in a variety of sizes including the typically large original. You can view and use those pictures free of charge by accessing our CapeCodAlan Flickr sets site.



  3. "I read a lot about "Optimizing" photos for web use. How does that work for this blog?" Now this last question deserves a post of its own, because it begs some other questions. We'll have to save this one for the next entry...


But before I go, here's a rather nice shot of an oriole, (they do love that grape jelly!)...

DSC_0021_411.jpg


Stay tuned by those feeders, and keep a sharp eye peeled for the next contest!

CapeCodAlan
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June 5, 2007

Building a Post

Hi,

It's interesting... Probably the most common question I get from friends and relatives concerning this blog has nothing to do with birds whatsoever. Instead, people want to know how we put these posts together... What are the mechanics of writing a post for a blog? Ok... Fair enough... You asked, I'll answer... Here's how it works...

  1. Typically, we first choose subject matter... We might take some pictures, or there might be a news item, or maybe another blog will raise an issue... Whatever...
  2. When pictures are used (and they almost always are), they have to be downloaded from one of the cameras (or both) to the computer via a USB cable. Today, we downloaded almost 400 pictures. Of those, roughly 100 were "keepers", and of those 100, probably 5 were stunning... (including the crow shot below).

    DSC_0030_enh_400.jpg


  3. All quality pics have to be loaded up into our New England Bird Picture Library site.
  4. After that, I write the basic article (in Microsoft Notepad of all things)... Using Notepad, we can be assured of entering only stripped-down ANSI characters that will seamlessly translate into HTML.
  5. Next, the HTML code itself is entered into the document where appropriate. (A superb HTML tutorial may be found at http://www.jmarshall.com/easy/html/.)
  6. Following the "happy, happy, joy, joy" of entering HTML tags comes the issue of picture quality... The photos usually have to be enhanced (for color brightness, balance, tone, etc., etc., etc.) Programs like Adobe's Photoshop and ArcSoft's PhotoStudio fill the bill nicely.
  7. Picture size typically needs to be adjusted. We try to shoot for a max dimension of 300 pixels on a side, though sometimes the subject matter demands as much as 400. The programs mentioned above work quite well for this task too, but even Microsoft Paint will do in a pinch.
  8. Next, the pictures are uploaded onto the eBirdseed server, and their Internet addresses are noted within the "post to be" in Notepad.

    So that's the basic process for creating the post. But that's when the fun starts.


  9. The Notepad piece is saved as a ".txt" file, and then copied into the Movable Type publishing platform for the eBirdseed blog. However, it is entered in an "unpublished" state rendering it invisible to you, the reader.
  10. Using a "preview" mode, I can look at the entire entry as it will appear to the viewership. That preview is then copied into Microsoft Word.
  11. The post is then spell checked from stem to stern. Whenever a mistake is uncovered, it is fixed both in Notepad and in Word, and the corrected Notepad article is saved immediately.
  12. Once the spelling and grammatical issues have been quelled, the matter of "readability" is tackled. (With luck, "reads" and "rereads" uncover redundancy, abruptness, transition, etc., etc., etc.)
  13. Almost finally, the work is fed into a text-to-speech synthesizer (I use NaturalReader) in Word. That way I get to listen to the whole enchilada in another "person's" voice.
  14. Almost, almost finally, the wife looks over the article, and sees if she can find a dent.
  15. With all systems "Go!", I wipe out what's in the Movable Type program, replace it with the latest version of the post in Notepad, save it, and change its status to "published".
  16. After that, still more rereads continue. It's not unusual for the wife and I to read the same article 10 or 20 times or more.


And how long does this process take? Anywhere from 90 minutes to 10 hours, though the typical time frame is four hours.

And that's the way it is... See you by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan
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May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend!

First things first... This is Sunday, May 27th, 2007... Happy Memorial Day Weekend folks... And a very special "Thank You!" goes out to all the men and women who have served, are serving, or will serve in the United States Marine Corps, the United States Air Force, the United States Army, the United States Navy, and the United States Coast Guard. And a very, very special thanks to their families.

Onward...

Alright then... As mentioned before, it's Memorial Day Weekend, and we're ready to talk about birds... NOT!

Every so often, we all need to take a break... This is my break. Today, I'm going to post on repairing your plain old, propane, backyard grill. Here's the process:
  1. Accept the fact that your grill burners and heat angle (aka "heat tent" aka "heat plate") are a rusting disaster area and a fire hazard to boot. Ours looked like the following...

    Grill%20wreck%20final.jpg


    But so long as the basic structure of the entire grill is sound, this post will be of help. However, if the firebox or frame has been compromised, throw the thing out and buy a new one! This post only discusses replacing the burners and heat angles themselves in an otherwise sound grill.
  2. Next, do your homework. Make sure that you can get the replacement parts. Printouts of scaled pictures and grill model numbers go a long way when you head for that "Big Box" home center.

    Grill%20wreck%20measured%20final.jpg

    And if the hardware folks can't help you, google the Web. That's what the wife and I did. Problem solved; we had the parts delivered right to our door.
  3. Once you have your parts, be sure the gas is turned off, disconnect the tank, and get it away from your well-ventilated work area.
  4. Acknowledge the fact that the following instructions are appropriate only if you put your grill/burner together yourself initially and/or you know what you're doing! (The original assembly manual works wonders here too.)
  5. Prep for the operation by gathering tools/sundries such as...
    • Screwdrivers
    • A decent socket set
    • Pliers
    • A roll of paper towels
    • Trash bags
    • Flashlight
    • Gloves and old clothing (This is going to be messy!)
    • Disposable putty knife
    • Eye protection
    • Wire brush
    • Grill cleaning brush
    • Grill cleaner
    • Camera


    We've done all our prep work, and we're wearing our safety glasses. Lets' get started!


  6. Now, take photos of the grill from every angle including the underside. It sounds crazy, but there's nothing like a photo trail back to full grill assemblage after a three-week, work/family, non-grill related binge.
  7. Ok... Into each life a little rain must fall. In our case, a lot of rust, dirt, and grease must fall. Yup... Double up some garbage bags and brace yourself... This ain't gonna' be pretty! Tear out the rusting, greasy parts and throw them away (being careful to note how the entire grill was assembled in the first place).
  8. Next, break out the sacrificial putty knife and wire brush, and scrape that fire box clean. (And no, old grease just doesn’t congeal into anything even near to Chanel No. 5, but carry on anyway.)
  9. Man oh man, that last step was horrible. But at least your empty grill should now look something like this...

    Grill%20fire%20box%20clean%20final.jpg


  10. Now, all that's left is to put the creature back together again, fire her up, give the grates a final scrubbing and cleaning, and then prep the BBQ... At this point, the old girl should start looking downright friendly... (We basically rebuilt our old grill at a cost of $60 instead of blowing another $300 for a new one. And I'll happily work for $120/hour any day!)

    grill%20restored%20Final.jpg




That should do it for today team... Ok, ok, ok... I can't resist a picture of a bird... Just call me weak... Here's a fantastic shot of a crow, thanks to the NovaBird camera. (Remember, you can see our entire 1,100+ picture library at New England Bird Picture Library, and be SURE to check out our NEW set - "Favorite Bird Photos"!)

Crow%20giving%20the%20eye.jpg


'Til later, see you by the feeders! (Now where are those pickles?)

CapeCodAlan
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May 25, 2007

A New Ballgame - Amateur Ornithology for the Masses Part 2

Continuing the new "Amateur Ornithologist" thread... (And remember, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has their Citizen-Science Gateway. Check it out.)

So what's next? Well, the first installment of this series took a look at birds' feet and legs.

Now how about them thar feathers and wings and how can we quickly compare them to a small aircraft's wings and whatnot! Thankfully, the kind folks who donate to Wikipedia have done the legwork here...

Birds' Feathers

Birds' Wings

Finally, there is this... Bird Flight from Wikipedia. That is a phenomenal collection of work.

So for the sake of this post... What about birds and flight? What's so remarkable? Let's see...

  • The common Black-capped Chickadee is ready for flight within 20 days of leaving its eggshell. That's quite an accomplishment considering that we have yet to get a human-powered, flapping, flying machine reliably off the ground after 70 years of "modern" (post DC-3) effort. However... We're still fascinated with the concept of an ornithopter, but we aren't quite there yet.
  • Well, the fact that birds don't have rudders (or vertical stabilizers) yet still can fly is pretty amazing. A plane's rudder (the vertical "sticky-uppy thingy" on the tail section of an aircraft) both controls yaw (the plane's tendency to oscillate side to side while still remaining parallel with the ground) AND it works in concert with the ailerons (those flapping panels on the trailing-edge of the outside of the main wings) to "coordinate" or smooth an aircraft's turn. Instead, birds use a complex system of feather and head movements for control...
  • And nowhere is that set of feathers (and the controlling muscles) more apparent than in the landing process... Check out the crow photo below...


    crow%20landing_new_400.jpg


    Note the primary (outer stern feathers on the main wings), the secondary (inner stern feathers on the main wings), and the twelve rectrices (tail feathers) acting as "air brakes". Simply amazing.


Well, that should be enough boredom for now... Expect an unusual article in the near future. (Hmmm... One might wonder how a person could use birdseed as a component in a parlor game? Hmmm???)

See you by the feeders, ...

CapeCodAlan

And as always, thanks to the following resources:
  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Wikipedia
  • Audubon Society
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • MSN Encarta
  • The National Audubon Society’s “The Sibley Guide to Birds”
  • ”Birds Of North America” published by Golden
  • ”Birds of New England” from Smithsonian Handbooks
  • Chapman's "Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America"
  • Peterson's "A Field Guide to the Birds"
  • "Birdwatching" from publisher "Discovery Travel Adventures"
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May 16, 2007

Clean Feeders

Hi all,

This post (about feeder cleanliness) is an important one, and we hope you read it through in its entirety.

Some time ago a reader posted a question concerning the lack of activity at his feeders. Here is the exact question and the exact answer...

I have had my squirrel proof feeder up for a month and no birds. Why?

{Gordon Moe replies}

Dear Jack,

Thank you for your comment to our blog.

I'm not sure which squirrel proof feeder you are referring to since I only show that you have purchased seed from us. Anyhow, I'll take a stab at answering.

When folks call us with this concern we often pose these questions and remedies:

1. freshen up the seed AND the feeder. If you have had some rainy weather and the seed has been wet for a time, it is most likely molding. Birds can sense this and stay away since some molds are harmful to birds. Empty the feeder and wash it thoroughly with a solution of 10 parts water and 1 part bleach. Let it dry completely and refill with fresh seed.

2. make sure the feeder is located near some foliage. When birds feed in an open area they are making themselves vulnerable to cats, hawks and other predators. They like the comfort of branches and bushes and perches nearby.

3. The feeder should be some distance from your house - 10-12 feet at least until the birds return. Make sure there are no ornamental yard flags or wind chimes nearby.

4. Wild cats or even domestic cats keep some feeders bare. Make sure you keep your yard cat free. The feeder is about 5 feet from the ground.

Please experiment with these fixes. I have tried to list them in order of importance.

Sincerely,

Gordon

*****************

Co-Owner

Read our NEW blog!!

http://eBirdseed.com/blog/

218-486-5607


The USGS National Wildlife Health Center has also issued a very detailed set of instructions concerning this issue.

This is something that should be taken seriously... No joy comes without responsibility, and that includes watching the birds in the backyard.

And here are the implements of sanitation... It's not a big deal...

Cleaning%20supplies%20for%20bird%20feeders.jpg


See you by those squeaky-clean feeders,

CapeCodAlan

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May 2, 2007

Birds and the Nature of the Universe

Hi all,

The following post is a tough one, and takes some number crunching and "mind yoga", but hang in there - trust me. The reflections involved are hopefully worth the effort...

To start... Let's be blunt and simply face the question that rolls around in the back of so many people's minds... "What's the big deal about birds? Yeah, we feed 'em and then we go to work... Big, fat, hairy deal." Well, here's just one reason why birds matter... (Setting aside the little issues of the environment, decency, and beauty.)

Let's get started...

In 1967, producer Sherwood Schwartz (of Gilligan's Island fame) drizzled loose a hopelessly sappy sitcom, "It's About Time". The storyline was painfully awful - two astronauts somehow exceeded the speed of light, went back in time, and ended up interacting with cavemen and cavewomen... We're talking "crawl under the carpet and suck your thumb" insipid. The campy show's opening jingle tootled, "It's about time, it's about space..." Well, for all the series banal content, the creators did get one thing right... It is all about time and space. To understand the importance that birds (like the fellow below) play in the "Big Picture", we need to wrap our brains around both time and space... (Please bear with this tired old engineer... You've got my word that I'll blast past all the numbers and make sense of this whole thing in the end... But this is a huge three-piece puzzle.)

wren_400_enh.jpg


First of the pieces is the issue of time... Details follow...
  • The universe is somewhere around 10 - 14 billion years old. (Thank you Hubble Space Telescope.)
  • The lifespan of our sun is probably 10 billion years... Currently, it's about 4 to 5 billion years old.
  • Earth is apx. 4.5 billion years old.
  • Life on earth started roughly 4 billion years ago. (That didn't take long - a measly 500,000,000 years in the making.)
  • Birds came into existence around 150 million years ago. (Check out Archaeopteryx.)
  • Physiologically speaking, the modern human species is about 100,000 years old. (Or 1/1,500ths that of birds.)
  • Civilization (in all its forms) is roughly 10,000 years old, (or 1/15,000ths the history of birds).
  • Given current environmental, political, resource-consumption, and religious trends, it will be astonishing if life on earth survives another 150,000 years. That might well hold true for any civilization - a quarter of a million years for any "higher-intelligence" life form is probably pushing the envelope.
The next piece is that of space...
  • First we need to describe a measure of space on a cosmic level. Light (traveling at 186,000 miles per second) will leave the earth and reach the moon (240,000 miles away) in roughly 1.3 seconds, (or 1.3 light seconds away to use the vernacular). Our solar system (the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto (sort of...)) is about 11 light hours (7,300,000,000 miles) across. But that ain't nothin'...
  • Our dinky little solar system is but a tiny dot in the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, which consists of 200 to 400 billion stars and is 100,000 light years in size. (A single light year is about 6 billion miles in length. A single light year is about 6 trillion miles in length... Correction made by author.) But that ain't nothin'..
  • The Milky Way is just one of 40 galaxies in what astronomers call the Local Group (apx. 4,000,000 light years in diameter). But that ain't nothin'...
  • The Local Group is just one in the Local Supercluster of Galaxies which contains 100 groups and clusters of galaxies. The Local Supercluster of Galaxies is around 150,000,000 light years wide. But that ain't nothin'...
  • Now we're reaching the "Big Daddy" - the entire universe itself. It consists of ~10 million superclusters, is a mind warping 40,000,000,000 - 100,000,000,000 light years wide, and some 700,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.
  • But given all those stars, only about 30% (mostly gasses and suns) of the entire universe contains any sort of matter as we know it. The rest is dark matter and dark energy. But given all those stars, only about 5% (mostly gasses and suns) of the entire universe contains any sort of matter as we know it. The rest is dark matter and dark energy. (Correction made by author to reflect this NASA site.)
It would be so easy to say that it's a big universe, time is fleeting, life (and birds) are rare, and sign off here, saying "See you by the feeders...", and be done.

But that would be ripping you off in the extreme. "Why all those stupid numbers and what's this business about time and space?" you might ask. Fair enough...


There's one more piece of the puzzle as to why birds are a big deal.

We need to look at how space and time interact as in the form of velocity - read that "miles per hour". Right now, our best rocket/shuttle can travel at apx. 25,000 mph. For the fun of it, let's just double that to 50,000 mph. (Hitting space dust or micro meteors at that speed would abrade a vehicle over long periods of time, but let's just use the number anyway.) Traveling at that speed, it would take us 250,000 years to reach the newly discovered earth-like planet Gliese 581, which is just a scant 20 light years away.

Long to short in an astronomical sense? (Here's the wrap up you've been waiting for.) We (and birds in particular) exist in a world that is likely only in the surreal unlikeliness of vast time and space... We've simply beaten the unimaginably long odds by being... But we're still just a cosmological blink in what is no doubt a twinkling universe of vastly separated lights flashing on and flashing off. And for our brief flash, birds, beautiful birds, are going to be with us every second of the way.

That's why birds (and life in general) are big fat hairy deals.

See you by those all important feeders,

CapeCodAlan

Many thanks to the following:

April 26, 2007

A Day of Testing, etc.

Hi all,

"Well this is it, the night of nights..." as the old cartoon theme song goes... The two cans of "BirdWatcher's Choice" meal worms arrived, as did the new NovaBird camera! A quick review of each follows...

First, let's look at the meal worms... They're made by Timbuktu Outdoors, located in Madison, GA. (And yes, you can purchase these the painless way via the Web at: eBirdseed.com.) They are in fact, soft and moist (just like the can says), and when unopened, have a long shelf life. So far, it looks like the larger birds (crows and jays) prefer the worms. (I just checked the feeders - the meal worms are all gone and the crows look like they're coming out of withdrawal.) Bluebirds are supposed to go crazy after the things. (Why can't we attract any bluebirds? Hmmm... Thoughts? Buehler?)

Sorry, sorry, sorry... I know I should spend more time discussing meal worms. (Birds love 'em, and they are 17% crude protein, which is something that the typical high-metabolic-rate bird needs.) But, the new NovaBird camera has arrived, and the engineer in me is about to explode!

So what is the NovaBird you ask? Well, it's a camera that snaps pictures all by itself. It has a motion detector which triggers the shutter automatically. All that is needed is to configure the camera, and then mount it 15" away from the subject area. Not much to do after that beside wait, and then remove the standard SD memory card, plug it into the PC, and download the .JPG pictures from the H:\DCIM\100MEDIA source. (Naturally, the path to your memory card will probably vary.)

Observations concerning the camera (and pics) follow...
  • The NovaBird shipped intact - good secure packaging. The contents (camera, 6V lead acid battery/rock, 6V battery charger, tripod adapter post, and manual) can be seen below.

    NovaBird%20Unpackaged_400.jpg


  • The specs for the rig are respectable...
    • It's about the size of an old-fashioned, personal, 35mm camera.
    • The color of the case is a camouflage green.
    • The 256MB SD card we bought (not included with the camera) holds ~600 pictures. (You'll need at least that, because any movement can trigger the NovaBird. I left it on for two hours and fifteen minutes, and it snapped 177 pictures. The camera will support up to a 1 GB SD card.)
    • I'd guess the camera itself weighs around 10oz.
    • 3 Mega pixels - common by today's standards. But when properly applied...
  • Setup was fairly simple. Just charge the battery/"rock", and set the "time", "date", etc. for the camera per the instructions. It was certainly easier than configuring a VCR. (Note that this isn't a hot-swappable device. That is to say, power down everything before you start connecting and removing cords.)
  • The picture below tells the tale of the actual mounting of the camera.

    Novabird%20on%20tripod_final.jpg


  • Supposedly, the camera has an electric eye that turns itself off at dusk, and then back on again at dawn. That sort of power-saving feature should give the NovaBird a 2 - 3 day lifespan on a single charge. I haven't had a chance to test this yet.
  • NovaBird and its battery pack are "water resistant". (Personally, I wouldn't leave them out in a downpour.)
  • The camera is adjustable such that its picture-to-picture delay can range from 10 seconds to 30 minutes.
Enough details! What can we expect from the camera? Start with "Wow!" and go from there.

From%20NovaBird%20Camera_400.jpg


To give you an idea of the quality of the pictures, check out the snapshot of a boat-tailed grackle's feet below... (This also seals it for me as to whether or not birds are related to dinosaurs.)


Boat-tailed%20Grackle%20Feet%20from%20NovaBird.jpg

And then there is this...

From%20NovaBird%20Camera_Maybe%20a%20red%20wing_400%20still%20nice.jpg


See you by those remote-camera monitored feeders!

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Can't wait 'til the wife and I get a chance to really put this unit to the test!!!

P.P.S. The hummingbirds are back!
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April 22, 2007

References and Resources

  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology -- This is the "Big Daddy" of the birding sites. And its complexity reflects that of its subject matter. It's well worth spending a few hours roaming around this project.
  • Wikipedia -- From "hum" to "hummingbird", Wikipedia has got you covered...
  • Online Etymology Dictionary -- Tremendous work, and fun reading.
  • Audubon Society -- For me, this site is good, but could be better. Its "About Birds" takes the reader from plates depicting the digestive tracts of birds, to the birds themselves... My bottom line is that I just don't find the interface that intuitive.
  • U.S. Geological Survey -- The USGS entry is good, but suffers from the same sort of convoluted interface as the Audubon site... There's a wealth of information in there, but you'll need to dig for it.
  • USGS maps -- Simply amazing detail here, but slow.
  • MSN Encarta -- Good old Microsoft Encarta... This is a nice "general use" resource.
  • The National Audubon Society’s “The Sibley Guide to Birds” -- When it comes to bird books, this is (in my opinion) the Holy Grail. The binding, color drawings, scope, detail... It's all great. This book sells for around $35, and belongs in every person's library whether or not she or he is a birder. Hats off to David Allen Sibley.
  • Peterson's "A Field Guide to the Birds" -- Before Sibley, there was Roger Tory Peterson... And, his work too is a masterstroke. I've got the 1947 edition of his book... It's old and it's tired, but still a "must own" regardless of the year.
  • ”Birds of New England” from Smithsonian Handbooks -- Fred J. Alsop III and the Smithsonian have really done a superb job of documenting and illustrating the birds of the northeast.
  • Chapman's "Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America" -- This is a more scholarly text complete with black and white illustrations.
  • ”Birds Of North America” published by Golden -- A smaller book, this works well as a good field guide.


Also, the following two, "more coffee-table" books deserve mention...

  • "Birdwatching" from publisher "Discovery Travel Adventures".
  • Ortho Books' "How to Attract Birds".
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April 20, 2007

Mystery Birds

Hi all,

Kathy (my sister-in-law) lives in Reno, NV, and has run across an unknown bird. (The creature has a blue body and brown wings.) Kathy is hoping that we can help her identify it. Let's see what we can do. Here are the facts that we have to go on...
  • She sees the unknown birds in the morning.
  • They seem to be fairly gregarious.
  • They are "robin-sized".
  • Kathy has looked at pictures of both the Western Bluebird and the Blue Grosbeak, and she doesn't think that either one of those are a match.
Before you look at the sites below, please understand the importance of examining each entire page listed. Keep in mind that birds can vary considerably in appearance based upon age, sex, and the degree to which they are hybrids and these pages reflect that variety. Now, we'd guess the local suspects to be: If you want to identify the bird further... Some thoughts...
  • Maybe one of the readers of this blog can post a comment positively identifying the bird.
  • Try to get some pictures of the birds, and then email those photos to me at: capecodalan@ebirdseed.com.
  • Use the microphone built into an MP3 player or cell phone to capture the birds' songs and email that to me at the address above.
  • Borrow/buy binoculars and a local bird book and see what you can find.
  • Ask your neighbors... No doubt someone will nonchalantly say, "Oh, those are such and such."
Finally, if you still can't identify the bird, I'll contact the natural resources folks in your area and we'll get you a definitive answer!

See you by those UFB (Unidentified Flying Bird) feeders!

CapeCodAlan



My money is still on the grosbeak below...


blue%20grosbeak_400.jpg
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April 3, 2007

Suet

Hi,

Time to assault the issue of what birds eat what suet! To give you a brief refresher, we outlined popular feed habits a few posts ago including both single-seed food, and mixed-seed blends.

But what of the rendered fat mélange?

hairy%20woodpecker_save_350.jpg


Let's take a look... General recommendations concerning suet types follow...
  • Berry Suet: Black-capped Chickadees, Bluebirds, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Woodpeckers, and Mockingbirds.
  • High Energy Suet: Black-capped and other Chickadees, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Wrens.
  • Peanut Suet: Blackbird, Bluebird, Catbirds, Chickadee, Creeper, Crow, Finch, Jay, Kinglet, Magpie, Mockingbird, Nutcracker, Nuthatch, Oriole, Roadrunner, Robin, Siskin, Startling, Tanager, Thrasher, Thrush, Titmice, Warbler, Woodpecker, and Wrens.
  • Woodpecker Suet: Black-capped Chickadees, Flickers, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Titmice, and Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.
  • Pecan Suet: Blue Jays, Bluebirds, Cardinals, Chickadees, Creepers, Finches, Flickers, Grosbeaks, Woodpeckers, Juncos, Nuthatches, Tanagers, Titmice, Warblers, and Wrens.
  • Fruit and Nut Suet: Bluebirds, Cardinals, Chickadees, Flickers, Mockingbirds, Nuthatches, Titmice, Pine Warblers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, and Carolina Wrens.
  • Peanut Butter Suet: The usual suspects above, but the woodpeckers in particular love this stuff!
A side note: Birds' tastes vary not just from state to state, but from neighborhood to neighborhood... Best to ask your neighbors what they use. And as always, you can use the comments button below for my $0.02 worth, as well as the following contact info.

Call: 1-866-324-7373
E-mail: info@eBirdseed.com

Mail:
eBirdseed.com
27823 86th Ave. S.
Hawley, MN 56549-8982

Fax: (978) 268-7155
Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM; Monday-Friday

See you by those feeders!

CapeCodAlan
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March 30, 2007

Let's Build a Birdhouse! (Post 2 of 2)

Back on Jan. 28th (it was 10 degrees outside) we floated a "rough design" for a modest birdhouse for the Spring. It was to be nothing special - just large enough for a bluebird or smaller. Well, time has passed and the birdhouse has "taken wing"! Let's take a look at the build process, what we finally got, and see if the birds like it...

To get started, the wife and I had to deal with frozen ground and scrap lumber. Ya' takes what ya' gets. The photo below shows some surplus wood and a printout of the January 28th post.

Bird house construction_In the beginning_1_300.jpg

Given those materials, we got started. We stayed with the plans for the most part, and pieced together a small house with a 4" X 4" inside floor plan. The hope was to house a titmouse, nuthatch, or chickadee family. The picture below shows the work coming together.

Bird house construction_before fasteners_300.jpg


Because the domicile was being made from scrap, the roof was spliced together using waterproof glue.

Bird house construction_Making the roof_1_300.jpg


To safeguard the birds, a left-over piece of aluminum diamond plate was fashioned into a squirrel guard.

Bird house entry hole close up_300.jpg


The final creation is shown below, complete with a pressure treated 4 X 4.

Bird house finished_3_300.jpg


We used the technique for mounting the birdhouse in that old post, "Hanging/Mounting Your New Feeder, (Part 2)". And voila!

From a distance_cropped but not shrunk_300.jpg


So that's the easy part... The tough part is convincing birds to actually live in the thing... Often, it will take a season or more for the human "scent" to wear off before a bird will set foot in a house. This time, we got lucky. Within just a couple of hours we had prospective tenants!

chickadee at birdhouse_14_300.jpg


See you by the feeders and the house!

CapeCodAlan
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March 26, 2007

Using the Web to Identify Birds

The start of this post initially dealt with traditional bird identification methods. Research on the Internet changed that approach. Let’s take a look at various Internet resources that may be used to ID birds.

  • Obviously, there are blogs such as this one (eBirdseed.com's blog (or http://www.ebirdseed.com/blog/)) that are more than helpful in "naming that bird" (Remember, a simple click on the "Comments" button below will yield very timely info from all of us here at eBirdseed.com.) To find other blogs, google on "bird blog" (without the quotes). Be prepared to hold your hat regarding the number of bird blogs available.
  • The number of bird forums is likewise breathtaking. Predictably, a simple google on "bird forum" (again without the quotes) yields great results.
  • But there's a new player in town... That of the photo posting site. Take a look at Flickr.com's Bird Identification Help Group.
And there are very few requirements for access to all of these free resources. Typically, you'll need to register (though there is no sign-in required for the eBirdseed.com blog), but that's about it. All folks ask is that you keep it friendly, rated "G", and provide as much information about the mystery bird as you can, including a photo (when at all possible), and the location and date of the sighting.

This is probably the only post we'll enter in this blog that won't have at least one picture. The reason being is that we hope readers will take the time to check out the sites above. You won't be disappointed.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. For what it's worth, the wife and I post on several forums, (she's an admin on one), and we've never seen a legitimate question go unanswered.
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March 23, 2007

Questions for the Future

2057 ebirdseed header.jpg
Greetings to the Earth Ornithological Commission,

Rumor has it that it's a rainy March day down there on Cape Cod terra firma. (At least it's better than last year - 2056 was a snow bear!) But up here in the Lunar Post II we suffer thru a slightly more diverse "climate"... Temps run 220R to 650R (that's -230F to 200F for you carbon dateables). The moonscape never changes, though the earthrise is always stunning. Still, there are obviously no birds, and that's a hole. (BTW, for the family friend... Please relay to "Grandpa Gordon" that his ancient pink flamingo lawn ornament plunked askew in gray lunar dust beams the Sea Tranquility!)

Anyway, this is our third rotation, and we'll be back soon. 'Til then, the perfunctory "Future Bird DNA Project" aka the ("Aves Genesis Project") summary follows. Please pass amongst appropriately. (Also pass along that the idea of team isolation as a conduit to creative thinking knarls!)

Here's some history and how it bears upon these current lunar "revelations" (pun intended).
  • Way back in 1996, humans cloned the first mammal, a sheep named "Dolly". (BTW... Dolly was cloned from a mammary cell from the six-year-old "identical-to-be twin". Dolly was named after the old country western singer Dolly Parton. Think about it...) But that was a watershed moment in that it marked the first time humans actually messed with the stuff of genetics on the "Big Scale". They almost got it right, except that the cells used to clone Dolly were six years old, and Dolly was born genetically six years old. Doh! But we got around that; we learned.
  • In 2003, the human genome project was complete. In the 25 years that followed, the genome maps for a full two thirds of the birds made extinct by the hand of humans were recreated. Ditto for other long-gone creatures.
  • In 2028 (thanks to the brilliance of genetic engineers and advanced genetics technology), a woolly mammoth was successfully cloned. And then the race was on to resurrect every modern critter species ever reduced to dust! For the sake of this report, a full 100 extinct bird species have been reborn. There were "Doh!s" to be sure. (My fave was the dodo we rebuilt in the image presented by Roelant Savery (see below)... Remember? The bird we rebuilt with two left feet, and all it could do was walk in right-hand circles! What a riot!) But we did get that straight too. Now the dodos flourish.

    dodo_USE_THIS_ONE.jpg
And that's where the history lesson ends, and the summary of this report really begins. Because we had some or all of their DNA, we've "gene-patched" and "gene-spliced" and cloned 100 species of birds that we wiped out long ago. But another 50 species remain in genetic obscurity. We have paintings of them. We have descriptions, specs, scientific classifications... But we don't have any of their DNA. And that's the crux of the proposed "Aves Genesis Project".

Should humans rebuild bird species from scratch, just like God?


It is our unanimous opinion that humans need to undo the damage that they've done. Yes, there will be more "Doh!s" (To borrow from that ancient comic Woody Allen, we may indeed try to build a bird and end up creating something with the "body of a crab and the head of a social worker".) But in the long run (as Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) notes in that classic movie Jurassic Park) "Life finds a way."

See you by the passenger pigeon feeders,

CapeCodAlan iii
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March 21, 2007

Staying Alive

Hi all,

Recent events (the tragedies on Mt. Hood, and now the missing boy scout) prompted this post...

Many of you are serious birders who take to the wilderness for that "special sighting". Cool. But you still need to be prepared for the accidental fall, getting lost, a sudden change in weather, etc... Read that "You're in deep trouble!"

So, the following general advice is from someone who's spent tens of thousands of hours in the great outdoors, in conditions that vary from -15F to 115F (and a good chunk of that was at night).

Onward...

In general, there are the big five "Make or Breaks" to survival. (Remember them as "PAHSW"):

Prepare: Research and train before you go! Study sites like Ready.gov. Make sure you and your pals know the terrain and "much-worse-than-possible-case weather scenarios" before you go. Talk with the local park ranger, guide, sporting-store owner, hunter, fisherman, etc. Always seek out the folks who've actually been stuck in the very wilderness you are about to enter. The local police and fire departments as well as the local pubs are goldmines.

Attitude: This is crucial! If you're upbeat, sensible, calm, and keeping the faith, you're well on your way. If you panic, you're in a hurt locker. Stay busy regardless.

Health: Number three on the must-do list is address immediate health problems. If there's an injury, you gotta stabilize the situation. Stop the bleeding, immobilize the broken bone, treat the sunburn... Whatever... But get the situation under control.

Shelter: The forth priority is protection. Have at least a marginal shelter, marginal clothes. Excessive heat or cold are big problems. In the case of a hot environment, seek shade. In the case of cold, get a controlled fire going. Do that and you're almost home. (Note that even in hot environments, a fire is still crucial for signaling, psychological comfort, defense, etc.)

Water: Finally, find potable water ASAP. (Snow is ok, but boil it before you drink it.) It never hurts to pack extra water, especially if you're heading into desert conditions. Remember, you only have a few days (at best!) before lack of water will kill. The typical person can survive for a couple of weeks without food.

So how do you prep for that four-hour birding adventure gone awry in the Great Unknown? Some thoughts...

  • Write out a "Hike Plan" and give a copy to a trusted friend or family member. (A good hike plan should include the "who", "what", "when", "where", "why", and "how" of the birding trip.) Be sure to leave a copy in your car too.
  • Wear an old t-shirt for a day or two, and then leave that in the car with your hike plan. If authorities have to search for you using dogs, you could be lost on the moon and the hounds will still find you.
  • Go with a group or a buddy if you can. And if you do go out in a bunch, do everything in your power to stay together.
  • Prepare to dress in layers! Garments like zippered/tied sweats are perfect.
  • Always carry a quality pocket knife. Swiss Army, Leatherman, and Camillus (Boy Scout) spring to mind. I own all three brands, and all are excellent.
  • The instant you get that "Uh oh" feeling of being lost, STOP! Do not wander off thinking that, "If I just go 'that way' for twenty minutes and then 'the other way' for forty-five minutes, I'll be all set." Go as far as you need to to take care of PAHSW and absolutely no farther.
  • Practice to gain an understanding in the balance between "essential" and "bulk"... Even a "micro hike" out onto the sidewalk in a good rainstorm, snowstorm, or heat wave speaks volumes as to what you really need.
  • Practice basic skills. (This afternoon I started a fire with a fire bow and was appalled to discover that it took me 45 minutes. Why, when I was younger I could build a fire from scratch in just... Oh never mind. And stop snickering.)
Ok, so what to carry into the great unknown? That answer depends on you and your conditions. But here are some guidelines... Start with a backpack that contains the appropriately waterproofed contents:
  • Required medications.
  • Pencil and paper.
  • In this age of GPS, always know where you are. Hint: Buy a good GPS.
  • Reliable cell phones are a must.
  • Replacement batteries for the two above!
  • A hand-cranked flashlight.
  • An old-fashioned map and compass (see below) just in case.
  • Basic first aid kit.
  • Baby/child needs.
  • Water.
  • Cash.
  • Sanitary water tablets.
  • Clean, empty tin can for emergency boiling.
  • A few sheets of aluminum foil.
  • Extra eye glasses.
  • Waterproof matches.
  • Emergency beacon.
  • Sanitation supplies.
  • Whistle.
  • Nylon cord/string.
  • Dental floss.
  • Small and large plastic bags.
  • Sewing kit.
  • Fishing kit.
  • Printed material on local survival techniques.
  • Emergency blanket.
  • MREs
  • A number of pairs of sweat socks. They make for great mittens and keep the feet warm too.
  • A metal mirror. (See below.)
  • Poncho.
  • Wire saw.
  • Inspirational text.
  • Photo of loved ones.
So that's it. To give you an idea of how unobtrusive some of this stuff can be, take a look at the photo below.

pocket survival gear_400.JPG

That's three knives, two sets of tweezers, a compass (floating in the mug), a magnifying glass, emergency instructions, a whistle, three screwdrivers, a mirror, two can openers, two sets of scissors, two files, a small chisel, and stuff I'm sure I forgot. And all that junk in the picture fits in (ok, gets lost in) a wallet and a pocket.

When all is said and done, plan on a pack that will weigh roughly ten pounds (depending on how much water you carry) plus your camera gear. Update your pack every six months by testing it in your (or a friend's) back yard.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodeAlan

P.S. The boy scout has been found alive!
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March 12, 2007

You've Got the Bird, We've Got the Feed, (part 2 of 2... aka The Mixed-Seed Saga!)

Hey gang,

Didn't want to keep you waiting. The chart below offers a general idea of what creatures like what mixed feed.

Click here to view the mixed-seed chart


Once again, if you're not sure about what to feed the critters, give us a shout at:

Call: 1-866-324-7373
E-mail: info@eBirdseed.com

Mail:
eBirdseed.com
27823 86th Ave. S.
Hawley, MN 56549-8982

Fax: (978) 268-7155
Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM; Monday-Friday

See you by the even-more-appropriately-stocked feeders,

CapeCodAlan
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March 10, 2007

You've Got the Bird, We've Got the Feed, (part 1 of 2)

The Single-Seed Saga

Spring is just around the corner! (Get ready to adjust those clocks.) With that in mind, it seems only fair to give you a quick, handy, "ballpark" guide to feed selection. So here you go with part 1 of 2... (Note that these are general guidelines. And yes, we know that squirrels will eat almost anything including cement mixers if the mixers are just parked long enough...) But this should at least give you a ballpark idea of what to look for. Once again, if you're not sure, use the comment button below for free help, or use the contact info to talk with the "Big Bosses":

Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM; Monday-Friday
Call: 1-866-324-7373
E-mail: info@eBirdseed.com

Mail:
eBirdseed.com
27823 86th Ave. S.
Hawley, MN 56549-8982

Fax: (978) 268-7155

To use the following table, just cross reference the bird type with the feed. (Gotta love the sunflower hearts and chips!)

Click here to view the single-seed chart

Keep a sharp eye peeled for part 2, The Mixed-Seed Saga!

See you by the appropriately stocked feeders,

CapeCodAlan
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March 4, 2007

Owls on My Mind

Saturday I had the wonderful experience of attending an owl exhibit at our town community center, given by the folks of Eyes on Owls. The husband and wife team of Mark and Marcia Wilson presented a comprehensive look at many of the common owls of North America (with a pair of exotic non-US owls thrown in for good measure).

Attendance was by reservation, but a few lucky stragglers got seated as well. The audience was filled with people of all ages, from babies to senior citizens. The presentation started with a slideshow of magnificent photos taken by Mark, a photographer of international renown. And the slides were breathtaking. Owls, nests, habitats, diet were all covered. We learned that owls do not digest everthing they eat, and their stomachs form pellets which are regurgitated; a sure sign of owl habitation in a tree is the debris of owl pellets below. We also learned that the wingfeathers of the owl, lightly fringed on the edges and velvety soft, are what allow the owl to fly nearly silently.

As each owl was displayed, Marcia demonstrated with amazing accuracy what its call sounded like, and invited audience participation in mimicking each call. I'm sure the owls were entertained--the children in the audience were, as well.

Seven different owls were displayed, and Mark and Marcia were good enough to stroll around the room as they discussed each bird, answering audience questions as we all got wonderful views of the owls up close. While the discussion centered around which birds live on Cape Cod, several of the owls displayed are not common here, so we all got a good close look at some beautiful strangers as well.

And speaking of good close looks...

Eastern Screech Owl
A small owl, common on Cape Cod and across the eastern US; usually nests in boxes or holes.

eastern screech owl on hand2_300.jpg


Saw Whet Owl
This tiny bird is found on the Cape and elsewhere, but is shy and hard to find.

saw whet owl on hand_300.jpg


Snowy Owl
This large beautiful owl nests in the Arctic, but can sometimes be found in off-season on Cape Cod beaches (no doubt enjoying the off-season rate!)

snowy owl wings extended_300.jpg


Great Horned Owl
Common on Cape as well as throughout the rest of the US and most of Canada; nests on platforms or takes over other raptor nests.

great horned on hand 2_300.jpg


Barred Owl
Not found on Cape, but in other parts of Mass as well as throughout eastern US, up through Canada and to the Pacific Northwest. The owl shown here lost a wing in a collision with an automobile, and has been rehabilitated and has nobly served for educational purposes for nearly eight years.

barred one wing_300.jpg


All the owls presented were disabled in some way and are not able to survive in the wild. They are well cared for by the Wilsons, who have all the necessary permits and certifications. All told, this presentation was a wonderful learning experience, and a great show!

See you by the feeders,
Mrs. CapeCodAlan
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