Out With The Trash

Two wicked storms and an 8 hour straight shot from Cleveland means we’re back from vacation.  All things considered, it was no where near the time we had in Yellowstone last year.  Some of that can be blamed on the uncooperative weather but mostly a total lack of wildlife to photograph.  Looks like I will have to work on finding good fodder for the blog in the upcoming year.  I’ll have more details on the trip coming up, but it is the 29th and guess who needs another post?  Figured a standby was in order tonight – this is mainly due to suffering from a mild case of heat exhaustion tonight and need to get some fluids and sleep, so off to the post.

If you visited previously, you may have seen a mention that I lost my Internet connection for a period of time.  Having moved to the country a few years back, one of the negatives was having to get rid of cable Internet and go with more archaic on ramps to the Information Superhighway.  Our phone coverage only guaranteed 14.4 due to old wiring and the technician even admitted that was pushing it with all the noise on the line.  Our Verizon card gets one bar if you stand on one foot and spread your arms out in the correct dimensions, but as a backup we also installed a satellite provider.  At the time, Wild Blue was about the only option and it was actually being run out of a small town about 45 minutes away from us.  Paying the extra fee to get 1.5M downloads (correction, paying the extra fee to never reach 1.5M but at least get an average slightly above crap).  Sometime on a Thursday, our access stopped working.  Being vulnerable to weather issues, we decided to wait it out – Friday – no luck, Saturday still no luck, Sunday officially frustrated.  Time to make a call to the home office.  Linda made the call which prompted a quite colorful text message to me summarizing her experience.  Turns out they could not care less whether their service was working and informed us that a service call would be ~$75/hr and that started from the moment they left their building (45 minutes away).  Minimally, we requested that they ping our satellite router to see if they could see it from their end giving us some indication where to start looking to resolve the missing bytes.  Nope, they refused and then started the argument that there was a storm showing on their radar and that was probably the cause – note, it was perfectly sunny that day and this problem had been occurring during other good days.  Pointing this out to them resulted in a very interesting comment.  Essentially, they told us to go find someone else to try and fix it.  When Linda told me this, I was literally stunned.  Here we were, a long time user of their service, a customer paying a premium for a higher transfer rate (which on average we rarely got) and basically just asking them if they can verify that our satellite connection to their uplink was working.  Any guesses what happens when a service provider tells me to go find someone else to fix their product?  Well, we did go find someone else, another service provider.  Four days later, the Wild Blue dish pole was ripped out of the ground and another company’s put in its place – that would be another service provider that actually appreciated our money.  So now Wild Blue was kicked to the curb and I am happy to say we are back online with Hughes which is significantly snappier than our former solution.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Wild Blue for such great advice, although you might want rethink that business model.

On the Road, Off the Road, Back on the Road AGAIN

I thought I would make a quick post.  Although I have a valid excuse, I am short two posts for this month (actually 1, but trying to not count my No Internet post since it really was not a true post).  Although chronicled in posts pasts, I have been battling a knee problem which has put me in the doctor’s office a couple of times and months of therapy.  From the diagnosis, it is technically an injury at the insertion point where one of the lower hamstring muscles attach slightly below and to the inside of the left knee.  This has been a nagging injury since the Bix7 run last July and has really hampered my ability to train for this year’s running events.  I had to bail out of the Cat Power Race 5K, but finished a controlled run at the Corporate Chase in Chicago (3.5mi) running with my friend Pakage who was participating in his first road race (congrats to him on finishing that race without stopping once!!).  That race was the first test of the rehab progress and it passed with flying colors although obviously not at full speed.  This lead up to the first real test of the season which was the Steamboat 4 miler in downtown Peoria.  Somewhat regrettably I had to forgo the medal this year for the 15K, but the voice of reason came through loud and clear.  My orthopedic doctor and my therapists were quite pleased at this decision, but it did leave a small hollow part in me.  I had completed 5 training runs >4mis  in the hills at Jubilee Park by Monday of race week so I was confident my cardio was in check (for at least this race) but did not push the speed beyond high 8s and low 9s in hopes of at least getting to the start line.  An appointment with the ortho doctor was set for the Friday before the race just to get some final reassurance, but keeping with my training regiment I took a slow run that Wednesday to cap off the race training.  The heat was coming in that day, which was a blessing since the Steamboat is appropriately named seeing as how the humidity is usually through the roof that day with temps usually in the high 80s at start time.  At the end of that Wednesday slow run, something twinged in the mid-hamstring on the injured leg.  The heart sank as frustration came flooding in.  Months of rehab, hours and hours of stretching every night and another injury rears its ugly head mere days before the race.  Knowing the main race was coming up in two months (Bix7) and this being the last race scheduled before that one, I decided to let mind rule the body, told myself it was going to be fine and made a conscious decision to nurse it Saturday and let the running gods decide the fate.  Each day it felt a little better and the doctor gave me sufficient confidence the primary injury area looked to be progressing well.  So, the clothes were laid out, the bib attached to the shirt and the alarms set for 3:45am (note, the training runs are grueling, the stretching is tedious, the strength training draining but all pale in comparison to the shock to system when the buzzers go off before the sun even bothers to get up).

The good news was the leg felt pretty good and most of the mid twinge had subsided.  The race was a go!  I was pretty much locked into an internal debate on how to approach this particular race and a number of scenarios were racing through the old noggin while the traditional pre-race picture was being shot by Linda.  I wanted to get a true test of how much work was still needed to make the Bix, but didn’t want to put myself back at ground zero if it wasn’t ready.  5 minutes from gun time, I decided to hold back the first two miles and check the mechanics as well as verify all of the other joint and muscle components were working in tandem.  As a plus for the day, a major storm had blown through in the early AM leaving a fairly cool day in its wake (~73F at gun time).  After all the ceremonies were completed, the elites were given the official start signal and the masses began their trek.  As planned, the first mile came it at an 8:35 which was slow for me, but the legs were holding together.  At mile 2, my pace was maintained until I saw the split time and decided to keep tradition and hit negative splits.  Speeding up a tad it clocked in at around 8:24.  It was decision time and looked out ahead looking for some rabbits to reel in.  It was good to feel the wind again and starting picking people off one after another clocking it at a favorable 8:00 for the third mile split with the legs feeling good.  The hill work definitely helped on the cardio side leaving plenty of gas in the tank for the final push.  Finally hitting a good stride since last July, the rabbits began to fall faster.  The hamstring started to whine a little about 3/4s in, but nothing sharp so kept the pace.  Turning the last corner the running driver locked into the final gear giving me a 7:35 close.

I turned to the guy to my right and congratulated him on a nice race while internally patting myself on the back for  holding off his strong charge to the finish.  To his credit he responded “Thanks, you won today, nice job”  No, I didn’t get to the podium (and not a goal for me), but I met the challenge and defeated the injury demons with a negative split race.   I think official race time due to timing chips was around 32:33 which is right there with my better times for that race in the past.  Knowing I had more to give in my first two miles is enough to know a PR was easily attainable and I was not fully back yet.  Clearly all the hard work and advice from my doctors and therapists is paying off.  Another month of hill work should get me to the Bix7 starting line ready to race.  It has been a tough year of ups and downs but it just makes completing the challenge a little bit sweeter.  By the way, I thought I would share this picture with you as well.

It seemed fitting … look behind me … there’s danger in every race, but this year I was victorious.  Best wishes for whoever required that ambulance.  Oh, and the Back on the Road part.  As soon as the race was over, we headed home, did some final packing and headed out to Acadia National Park in Maine.  Nothing like 23 hours in a car to validate whether the acid is out of the legs eh?

… posted on the go from  I90 tollway somewhere in the middle of New York

Well, It’s a Bird, but Your Guess is as Good as Mine

My typing fingers are worked to the bone, my eyes struggle to remain open and my body has become one with the office chair.  Yet, I am pleased since this post brings me to the end of the wildlife shots from the Yellowstone vacation last year.  It is slightly embarrassing to have taken this long to get this done, but we literally have thousands (yes plural) of shots from that trip.  Needless to say I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the great shots Linda took – especially the water fall silks.

This last set is an interesting one in the sense your guess is as good as mine as to what these birds are.  I probably went through the field guides about 30 times trying to pin these birds down with very little success.  As with the unknown ducks, these may be shots of females that are not sufficiently described in the guides or possibly migrated out of their standard regions and thus are not usually seen there.  If I am lucky, one of my millions of readers (you believing that?) will recognize one and drop me a comment.

Fasten your seatbelts, the mystery tour is starting.  Basically all I have to go on is the silhouette of this particular bird which is very little help when trying to identify a bird.  Based on comparing the head outline and the wider fantail, my guess is an Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Admittedly, the tail is a little wider than the guide specimen, but other than that it appears pretty close.  It also says they sit on the highest twigs.. well, that appears to match.

I spotted this particular bird out in the middle of a large field (and pretty far out).  I was unable to get a good clean shot of the bird mainly due to the impressive air acrobats that were being executed at the time.  Twisting, turning, diving, loops, it was was quite impressive.  It may have been attacking prey but it never came up with anything.  It was probably just showing off to a potential mate.  It really didn’t match exactly like any of the hawks in the various books beyond the tail striping.  There is a lot of white on the underwings which doesn’t fit with my decision to identify it as a Red-tailed Hawk.

You know, I am still not sure about this one.  The red-tailed doesn’t really have the striping this one has and in this shot, the profile looks a lot leaner.  None of the other specimens really have the whiteness shown under the wings.  There is a chance it is an Osprey, but it would be much darker on top.  Just a second, this is bugging me, let me check another reference…..  sigh, I just can’t tell.  I am less confident it is a red-tailed hawk now and now considering a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk or possibly an American Kestrel.    Note I asked Linda for her opinion and she decided it was a never before seen bird and to name it after me.  This is the kind of help I’m dealing with people 8^(

The next one is probably a Tree Swallow.  It’s a crappy shot, but decided to include it because it was clearly an inspiration for something.  Any guesses?  If you said our stealth wing planes you’re tracking with me.  It would be interesting to know if this is where they got the idea from … or maybe not interesting to know if they’d have to kill me after telling me.

If the hawk above was hard to decide, this one is downright impossible.  As with the hawk, I’ve scoured my resources looking for some clue that would lead me to the proper identification.  There were a number of these birds flying around the rising steam pools around Yellowstone.  This particular one would fly around for awhile and then land in the rocks for a brief rest.  I almost with with a White-throated Swift, but the guides says it never perches.  Never is such a definite word but my pictures never show one clinging to the rocks.

The Violet-green Swallow does nest in colonies on cliffs which checks with my visuals.  Clearly there is room for debate on this one.  Well, not such much debate as I’d probably cave in to any viable alternative (that matches that region).

Strangely enough, this bird exactly matched none of the blue colored birds in the books.  It clearly has blue wings, but the head and body are sporting a pretty solid grey.  It is this grey that makes me throw out the Mountain Bluebird (which is all blue) .  It also lacks any orange which rules out the Western Bluebird, the Eastern Bluebird, the Blue Grossbeak and the Lazuli Bunting.

I also know the Blue Jay and the Steller’s Jay so that left me with the Western Scrub-Jay.  In contrast, it is suppose to have a bluer head the picture being compared to shows fatter in the body.  It did say it likes to hang around campsites and picnic areas which coincides with where these pictures were taken.

Here are two pretty poor shots of a interesting bird.  It is actually the first bird other than the finch I’ve seen sporting the bright yellow markings.  It refused to sit still for a microsecond in order to get the lens focused, but for the most part you can see the yellow on the rump and the second one shows some yellow on the head.  Based on those weak observations, I have officially called this a Yellow-rump Warbler.

Apparently the female is a little duller in the head (coloring fools 8^)  so the above one is likely a female.  The fuzzy shot below is likely of a male because it is smarter.. I mean sharper colored.

Okay, it’s audience participation time.  Hit the jump to see more!

Continue reading Well, It’s a Bird, but Your Guess is as Good as Mine

Just About a Wrap on Vacation Birds

As promised previously, I’m cranking through the remaining photo shots from last year’s vacation.  This year’s vacation is closing fast and since we are headed to a state I’ve never been, the assumption is the shutters will be snapping non-stop.  I have already picked up that region’s field guide and perusing it from time to time in order to set my wildlife checklist.  Last year almost all the animals on the list were checked off, with the exception of the Wolf and Mountain Goat.  Time is short today so I better get to this set of birds.  The first image is of a Chickadee that is fairly common both around my house and apparently out there.

I mainly added this picture because I liked how the little one was tucked inside the evergreen branches.  The field guide actually claims this is a Mountain Chickadee, but to be honest it looks exactly like the ones outside my window as I type this blog.  It does say the habitat is coniferous forests.  Based on this photo, they nailed it.  Wow, as I looked out the window to verify with a chickadee on my feeder, I spotted a raccoon holding onto a branch above my feeder and paw over paw pulling up my bird feeder over the squirrel baffle.  Please hold while I deal with this evil spawn.  …….  the problem is solved.  Geesh, it’s 5:44pm in the afternoon, they are definitely getting bolder.

The next set of photos is from a small pond we stopped at because it had a ton of creatures flying out and diving under a bridge next to the road.  They were flying so fast I couldn’t really tell what they were, so I decided to get out and try to figure it out.  The first consideration of bats were thrown out pretty quick due to the coloring, which led to some type of swallow.  Although I clipped this one, it did show the coloring pattern that led to the identification.  Nothing like trying to look through the viewer and try to get one of these bullets in your field of shot.

I was in the process of putting the lens cap back on the camera and closing up shop when all of a sudden one of the swallows fell completely out of the sky and landed on the water.  Finding this odd, I ended up taking the cap back off in order to use the zoom to get a better view of the scene.  There the bird remained motionless just floating on the water for what must have been at least 3 minutes.

The assumption was it was dead for what reason remained a mystery.  Eventually the little guy stirred a bit and began to come to life.  Slowly it started to beat the wings to build up momentum to escape the water.

Likely due to the extra weight from the wet wings, it was quite a struggle before it was able to gain flight again.  This shot is actually one of my favorites as it was taken just a split second after reaching freedom.

I am hoping it is just a shadow, but the shot actually looks like it might have left some blood where it landed.  Based on the amount of birds flying around at break neck speeds, the odds are it collided with another swallow and lost consciousness for a little bit.  It looked fine as it gained altitude, but eventually I lost it in the swirling mass so best wishes.

Please hit the jump to see the rest of the set.

Continue reading Just About a Wrap on Vacation Birds

Shock Me Shock Me With That Deviant Behavior

Oops, this post’s image came out a little more legible than intended.  That’s a ‘Y’ if you happen to be confused 8^).  I was feeling a little bad having barraged you with so many wildlife photos as of late and decided to throw in a recent observation.  Linda and I were eating lunch at Lou’s Drive In.  For those who may not be familiar with this place, consider it a throwback to the old A&W establishment that you order curbside and your food is brought out to your car.  Whenever I go to Lou’s I remember the days in the distant past when Mom and Dad took us for root beer and hot dogs at an A&W’s in Springfield.   I also win points from Linda since she loves eating at Lou’s.  Ironically, we prefer to walk up and eat at the counter rather than stay in the car.

So, there we were sitting  and eating our hot dogs and root beer when a couple came up and sat down next to us.  The assumption was this was their first time here based on the difficulties they were having making up their minds on what to order.  They have a variety of offerings, but guessing some 90% of their customers order hot dogs and root beer…. okay, maybe more like 89%.  Eventually the counter waitress (they appear to only hire high school girls for this job by the way) tired of continually having to come back to them to ask what they wanted so simply stood there until they made a decision.  I can’t imagine the sheer terror one of them must go through when making a critical decision.  It was really this decision drama that drew my attention to them.  Wondering how this was going to play out (hamburger, no hot dog, no chicken fingers, wait hot dogs with fries… hamburger..), I noticed she had a tattoo.  Now, to know me is to know I am drawn to artistic and creative items and continually looking for inspiration for my own creative projects.  These projects are generally a self challenge to see if I can take a particular idea a little further or a new slant on an idea someone else may have already come up with.  Many fail, but every once in awhile, something makes it way on display.  Therefore, if you like art and have an affinity for observing people, tattoos are an irresistible magnet.  It is an entertaining activity to try and rationalize why an individual chose to get a tattoo in the first place and then what must have been going through their head when they selected that eternal mark.  Isn’t this really the intent of anyone with a visible tattoo anyway?

Back to the story at hand, the young woman (guessing 23-25) had a tattoo of a sun high on the back of her right shoulder.  Something seemed odd about it causing me to take a couple of looks at it before figuring it out.  The actual sun was pretty good (the post image was an attempt to provide a visual).  However, there seemed to be some cursive writing over it.  This was difficult to read since it was fairly light and looked like it was quickly done resulting in dots from the tattoo vibration instead of a smooth line.  Initial guess is the bottom word said Jeff and jumped to the conclusion it was a tribute to a loved one.  This turned out to be incorrect as the first word eventually came into focus.  This resulted in a slight internal flinch followed by a nudge to Linda to check out the tattoo (with a hint to read the words). Yeah, I lied, it wasn’t a ‘Y’.

I’ll never actually know the contributing variables that led to this decision or if there is a philosophical meaning for the image.  Whether she is a vampire with sun issues or a recovering melanoma victim, one thing is for sure, she leaves an interesting first impression.  The bet is she is fully aware of that.  I wonder if she spent the same amount of time deciding on fries as she did deciding on that permanent ink?  Just thought I would share and give you a break from the wildlife posts.  If you are curious, I whipped up that sun image freehand in about 15 minutes and thought it came out pretty good.  Anybody willing to let me try and tattoo something on them?  .. come on?  .. how about a stick fighter theater scene, nobody has one of those I bet!

By the way, extra blog points if you know the movie the title came from.

What the Duck Is It?

I’m about one day away from going completely nuts due to not having Internet access from my main computer.  This is suppose to be resolved on Tuesday when the new satellite dish is installed.  Until then, I am forced to use my wife’s computer which has to be the crappiest Dell (Studio XPS) I’ve ever used.  Not only is this ridiculously hot thanks to the bad engineering design to have the lid close off the back vent when the lid is open, but the scratch pad mouse will float the cursor randomly if you just wave your thumbs over it.

I do need to persevere though and get through the vacation pictures.  This particular set is essentially a set of ducks of which I have been unable to locate in any of my three bird field guides.  This is likely due to being females and for some reason a majority of the guides will show a male specimen and then simply describe the female version.  It may just be me, but I find this a very frustrating approach for identifying birds.  Usually I can luck out and snap a male with the female which allows me to simply verify the image with the text for the male, but without a starting point, you are basically trying to wade through every description.  After going through this process a couple of times, I have given up and will simply provide the images in hopes someone out there can help me out.

But first, here is one I could actually identify due to how common it is where I live.  We walked up to Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Forest.  Unfortunately, the trail is actually uphill the entire way which did not win me any points with my wife.  I think she was just about ready to beat me over the head with the tripod when we finally reached the destination.  One of the first things we saw coming up to the lake was:

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a mallard with its head in the water, but the interesting thing was how long he maintained this position.  He would literally do a beak stand in the water for over a minute before bringing his head back up.  5 seconds of rest and he would go right back to that position.  It seemed like some kind of inside duck joke on visitors (or an inside joke between Linda and I if she won the lottery which will remain a secret).  This went on for the entire time we were at the lake.  Still intrigued as to the reason, I happened to pan to the right a little and it all came crystal clear.

The dude was just showing off for the ladies.  This is probably the duck equivalent to Val Kilmer doing stupid muscle poses during a sand volleyball game (except Val was with all males by the way).  A quick funny story.  On the way back down, I saw a small little snake dart into some rocks from the side of the path.  Knowing Linda is deathly afraid of them, I calmly mentioned she should go ahead of me (while I blocked vision from the snake).  She somehow put two and two together and started freaking out which included grabbing my shirt and literally ripping it to pieces.  Next thing I know, one of my favorite shirts now has its sleeve seam completely ruined.  Let that be a lesson to myself – next time, she’s going to have wished she hadn’t stepped on one and I’m keeping her hands off my clothes.

Since there a few unknown duck shots, I’ll put them after the jump.  Again, if you recognize any of them, please drop a comment.

Continue reading What the Duck Is It?

No Internet Until Next Tuesday

Sigh, my Internet access bit the big one last Friday – was out for 3 days before calling Wild Blue to get the situation corrected – they apparently could not care less about assisting one of their long time customers and basically told my wife to go somewhere else to help troubleshoot the problem.  They wouldn’t even do a ping back to see if it was hardware related or an issue on their side – probably will post the details when my NEW provider is up and running next Tuesday.  Until then, don’t panic, I’ll be back to posting as soon as the connectivity to the Inet is restored.