Henderson – It’s a Wrap

Today’s topic seemed a perfect fit for today’s blog for a number of reasons.  For starters we just finished up our latest bird shoot down in Texas.  Although that trip was somewhat exhausting (7 days, 7 different hotels) we did manage to shoot what we went there to find.  Which, by the way, is absolutely awesome and can’t wait to post the results here.  I was able to finish up not one, but two more phases of Project Auuunnooold.  It’s the end of the month and lastly, the final wrap on our first two visits to the ,  Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.  This comes as a bitter-sweet event.  Bitter in the sense that this shoot produced an amazing number of new checkmarks and interesting photos.  The Sweet part is it will allow me to move on to the other shoots that have been piling up in the queue – and trust me, there is a LOT in the hopper at this particular point in time.

Let’s recap why the Henderson Preserve was such an amazing birding location!

Overall Posts Pertaining to Henderson: 22

Number of New Birds to the Blog: 21

Number of Birds Featured: 32

Number of non-Bird Posts: 2 (The Coyote and the Jack Rabbit)

No other place has come close to being this productive from a non-captive environment perspective.  In closing this shoot out, I just wanted to provide a few more shots that caught my eye when closing out the catalog from the digital darkroom.  First off is a few more of the Northern Harrier that was hunting in the area.  This bird of prey must have known we were there since it would drift his hunting circles away from us every time we came close.  It is hard enough to keep The Beast on target with something close, but downright nightmare trying to keep the focus on something that doesn’t even fill the focus point.

As a result, there are “plenty” of blurred shots that hit the cutting room floor, but some turned out decent enough to process.   Not as crisp as the previous set (link here), but definitely closer so you can make out the features better.

The next one could use a little more lightening in the dark room – likely pushed the shutter speed in favor of keeping the blur down.  Mainly putting it here because the composition looked nice in the frame.

Hit the jump to see the last of the Henderson shots.

Continue reading Henderson – It’s a Wrap

Operation: Special Delivery

It is nearing a month now of not being out pounding the pavement and I’m going bat shit crazy.  Doctors and therapists want some badly needed healing to occur before the running resumes.  Sounds easy, but this is killing me.  The time on the road has been replaced with core and flexibility work which makes hill repeats seem like a trip to Disneyland.  A week or two more and the shoes will be laced up and training for next year’s running circuit will be back on track… fingers crossed.  Until then, might as well leverage the extra time and chip away at this month’s quota.

… and the theme lately appears to be PROJECTS – well, BIRDS and PROJECTS.  This month saw the completion of a pretty involved effort focused on one key goal – taking my revenge on the snow plow guy.  Now that may seem a little harsh, but this has been an ongoing battle for like the last three years.  Pretty sure this is a game for him – “how fast can I go to knock over all the mailboxes on this rural road?”  The sense of dread every time it snows is overpowering – reluctantly the boots are pulled on, the coat is dragged over and the cap slid on before plodding down the driveway to experience the carnage.  Inevitably, the box will be hanging by a thread or sitting off in a distant snowbank – lid open and the mail looking like the litter after a “Greener Tomorrow” benefit concert.  A few choice words and some fetching of powertools limps the box along until the next snow.  Linda was at her end with this issue and was stepping up her “awareness campaign”.

I refuse to be beaten by this devious plowman and committed to doing something about it.  Truth be told, this has been on my mind for some time – every time that beaten down mailbox came into view, the mind wind would start running down design options.  It was really just a matter of finding a couple of weekends to devote to getting my hands dusty.  That time finally came a few weeks ago and here is the end product – standing proudly waiting for the first test of the Winter.

One of the inhibitors is I wanted to get familiar with some new tools and try my hand at some new (to me) carpenter techniques.  When doing new things with tools that can cause serious maiming, you do not want to be rushed and/or distracted.  The fingies are important to me and the months working vertical steel lathes and gear cutters has taught me to respect the sharps (and you probably thought I just sat in a cozy office all these years).

Might as well take you through a quick breakdown of the process.  Clearly the first thing was to finalize the design.  A big thanks goes to my neighbor who came up with the original concept.  He is a big wood worker and made his mailbox when he moved in a few years back.  Every time I picked up the mailbox out of the snow I’d glance over at his driveway to see his mailbox standing proud above all the downed mailboxes.  No reason to ignore a working model – just needed to extend the concept a little bit to put the Bri touch on it.  His was made out of at least 6x6s posts he salvaged from the house clearing.  4x4s had to do for my project.  After the materials were acquired, the next step was to learn how to mortise and tenon (confession .. thought it was actually tendon which shows you what a rookie I am).  Neighbor’s was just bolted flat – figured this would compensate for the smaller lumber size and be a vehicle for getting familiar with my plunge router.  Starting with the tenon I used a straight router bit to cut a valley in the 4×4.  The depth was set to produce the desired final width after shaving off all four sides of the 4×4.  This was a pretty big cut which is where the plunge router came into play allowing for multiple passes of increasing depth.  Now, the first attempt failed miserably – not thinking I started by shaving off the very end using a pencil line to follow.  Not only is the pencil line dumb since once slip will effectively erase it, but more stupid is the fact it shaves off all the support for the router base as you move out to the end! dumb dumb dumb.  After some pondering the answer was pretty simple – there was plenty of length in the lumber so bringing the cut in more was not an issue.  Also added a wood guide to prevent any drift.

Just need to make sure the piece of wood was lined up on each turn of the 4×4.  It didn’t even matter how big the cut was, all that was needed was for it to be long enough to fit nicely into a mortise – guessing around a depth of 2 inches and the rest could be cut off with the chop saw.  To speed up the process, went ahead and cut all the tenons at once – the white tape was a short lived idea since the router base simply scraped it off and only caused the bottom to gum up.

Hit the jump to read about all the other details involved with this project

Continue reading Operation: Special Delivery

Operation: A Well Hung Peter Redux

First off, I just want to extend our best wishes for the speedy recovery of our surrounding communities as they were hit by a horrific F4 tornado over the weekend.  Fortunately, no one we know was injured – it is still unclear at this point whether others in those communities suffered losses but our hearts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this tragedy.  Many of our friends have lost their homes and I can only imagine what they must be feeling at this point.  Keep your heads up and we are all here to help wherever we can.

I had some downtime so figured it was good time to crank out a quick post.  Project Auuuunnnnooold has entered another phase and that is taking a huge amount of my days/nights, so I need to get these out when I can.  If you recall, Linda’s favorite photographer is Peter Lik.  Clearly an unfortunate name to carry through the early school years.  If you are an avid reader of this blog you might also remember a trip to Vegas a couple of years ago netted us our great room centerpiece (link here).  Earlier this year we made our annual trek out to the desert.  Our new tradition is to visit the Peter Lik Galleries to see what is new in the collection.  We should probably reconsider that new tradition since we now have a new piece for our guest room.

These are cell phone pictures so don’t take this as an indicative shot.  The captivating component of Peter’s work is how it reacts to light.  Again, you really need to experience it in person, but imagine the shot above as the “low” light state.  It essentially darkens and the vibrance in the sky kicks in as if the storm is in full force – this is the reason I thought of this post topic based on the recent events in Washington).  When the lights are on it, the pictures brightens and the lone tree becomes the focus of attention.  The storm then looks like it is just building in the distance.  Quite amazing really and dramatic change is what captivated Linda enough to want to add it to her collection (she may claim it was I who wanted it, but that’s probably just crazy talk).  They added an Elements pack of our choosing so we technically came back with FIVE Liks.  Of course, the minute we signed on the dotted line the thoughts switched to the work to hang it.  The last one took everything I had, but the guest room would not require any stress with the cultured stone that the great room had.  There was one MAJOR concern that kept swirling around the head – it had to be hung in a manner that provided confidence it would not fall.  This condition is not so much a concern for the replacement cost, but rather due to where it was going – essentially directly over our sleeper couch which means directly over the heads of our guests.  This was not something to take risks on.

The picture needed to be centered on the wall or I would soon end up in a psych ward somewhere – Linda often points out my small amount  of OCD when it comes to symmetry.  Non centered or worse yet crooked pictures will slowly grate on me until I can’t take it anymore and have to do something about it or vacate the room – and no, this is not just in my house so my apologies ahead of time if I happen to tweak a picture when no one is looking hehehe.  Having help build our home, we have the luxury of knowing exactly what the interior of the walls look like.  This provides direct access to where the studs are and any interferences that might be in the area.  The first concern was the plumbing for the master bath on the other side of the wall, but that turned out to be lower than the hanging point.  The stud locations were the problem.  Unless there was some way of knowing ahead of time what you are going to put on the walls, just assume you will NEVER have a stud where you need it.  I knew this going in so spent the flight home trying to think of a way to address this problem and still allow for the picture to be perfectly centered.  The graphic scene of this picture hitting someone sleeping under it kept popping into my head.  The standard answer is to use drywall anchors but history has shown those can pop out if they do not get a good hold or if too much weight is applied.  This picture is heavy so wanted to leverage studs … if I wanted any sleep when we had guests.  After significant noodling this solution evolved.

Hit the jump to read details on the hanging process

Continue reading Operation: A Well Hung Peter Redux

Angels of the Ponds

Big day today, finally completed a project I’ve been working on for several months.  This is actually a double benefit since not only can I set my sights on a new endeavor, there’s one more post topic in the hopper.  Now only need to process the 20o pictures and get them ready for the blog .. don’t panic, probably won’t subject you to all of them … or maaaayybbee hehehe.    Until then, figured I’d try to wrap up the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve visit.   Other photo shoots are starting to back up in the queue and need to get at least a few of them out of the way to make room for the new year.  You may recall there was a post earlier in the month on the Great Egret (link here).  We were lucky enough to have multiple encounters with various Egrets and at one point they decided to put on a show!

I really like this shot for a number of reasons.  Clearly the birds themselves were captured in similarly unique poses which shows off how pretty these birds are.  The large one is the Great Egret and based on what I can tell of the bill from this angle, the smaller one is a Little Egret – possibly Snowy but the neck seems a little long for that.  They reminded me of Guardian Angels with their pure white wings raised up like that.  After a little bit you tend to get curious and your eyes start to wander.  Following the Little Egret you notice some Grebes passing by – wonder if the Egret was trying to scare them away from their feeding area.  They were coasting by without alarm so doubt the Grebes cared much.  Still searching you start looking at what has the Great Egret’s attention.  That leads to the American Coot somewhat hidden in the dark colors.  Turns out that Coot also has its wings out basically taunting them – I have already documented how those Coots like to mock their pond mates (link here).  Some of you may have already seen this shot a little earlier – accidentally put it up on Birding Across America site (link here) before remembering it had not debuted here yet – oops.

Not wanting to be left out, another Egret decided to join the festivities.  Can really see the span of those huge white wings on the Great Egret from this angle.

Hit the jump to learn why these Egrets were so annoyed!

Continue reading Angels of the Ponds

The Trail of Tears – The Haunted Trail 2013

Let me apologize up front for any lost sleep as a result of this post.  Feel free to bail now if you are prone to screaming or fainting at the sight of scary scenes because today’s topic is loaded with them.  Now, on the other hand, if you are a fan of Halloween as much as I am you will be quite happy!  We held our annual Halloween Party a couple of weeks back.  A staple for that event is the Haunted Trail that Paul R. and I create for the guests to enjoy .. if they dare.  Similar to last year’s trail (link here), the 2013 version was a definite labor.  On a previous post it was mentioned I ran the Screaming Pumpkin Marathon Relay (link here).  Taking two laps of that event puts me at the Half Marathon distance which closes out my race season for the year.  The details of that race can be obtained in that related post, but the key aspect of that race is that it ends at midnight which means we do not get back home until close to 1:30am.  The energy drain and the lack sleep w0uld be enough on its own, but the day after the race … or depending on how you look at it, the day the race ended, was the day of our party!  The week leading up to the day is spent making sure the house is ready to go, water is hauled to fill the well and the yard is ready for the bonfire.  This allows me to focus on building the Haunted Trail once the race is over.  To get everything done I need to start the process no later than 9am.  From 9 until 15 minutes before the party starts (5:30pm) I am pretty much on the go hauling the decorations into the woods, making sure all the danger areas are taped off, putting up the trail path lights and then crafting the trail experience.  This year Paul even came out earlier (1pm) to allow more time for setting up his decorations – pretty much tradition these days that we are finishing it off as the guests are starting to arrive.

Another tradition is each year we go bigger and bigger – last year we took the big step and added power to Paul’s side all the way down to the bridge.  Upping the game we added power to my side this year!   If this keeps up we just might have to start the day before (in the future we hope to pull if forward to get it away from the race and fit with our schedules better).  I took pictures of all the decorations along the trail both during the day and then tried to capture them again at night – used my camera phone so the pictures leave a lot to be desired .. although that might actually add to the spookiness.  Rather than overload this post with all the images, figured it would be better if I just highlighted the new elements of the trail.  Please visit the full gallery up on Smugmug to experience all the Haunted Trail has to offer (link here)  – note, they were placed in the reverse order as they appear on the Trail.   Additionally you can visit Paul’s website to see the pictures he was able to take (link here).

The pinnacle of the new decorations this year has to be the clown head.  Everyone knows by now I HATE CLOWNS.  My adage – the only good clown is a dead clown.  Turns out Halloween City must have taken this to heart because sure enough, they had a DEAD clown.  When Linda and came upon this while perusing the aisle, my eyes lit up.  There was no way we were going to pass up a decapitated clown with a meat hook through the skull.

Pretty creepy eh?  Not as terrifying as a real clown but still pretty creepy.  The next addition to the trail came from my parents.  They know of my affinity for this holiday and tend to pick up items they find that fit the bill.  Always appreciated their openness to my weird hobby.  The skull below actually glowed nicely in the night – oh, did I mention the Trail at night is nearly pitch black except for the decorations and small lights that outline the walking path?  The thick woods doesn’t let a lot of ambient light in which really enhances the experience.  You can actually see the stakes in the shot below – those have velcro on them that holds little LED nights.  I do not want anyone getting lost down there especially since it parallels a stream and this year the hedge apples were raining out of the trees – the path had to be rerouted from last year for the safety of the guests.

Hit the jump to see all the new decorations… unless you are scaaaarrrreeeedddd.

Continue reading The Trail of Tears – The Haunted Trail 2013

Revisiting the Great Egret – This Time With Foot Zoom

I can’t believe it is November already.  2013 has flown by WAAAAY too quick.  This generally means I’ve been keeping pretty busy and that is a good thing.  Unfortunately, my to-do list doesn’t look one bit smaller as a result – rate added is exceeding rate completed.  The good news is Phase 5 of Project Auuuunoooold is completed and another project is nearly done .. translated… look for upcoming posts!  In case you were not keeping track (although I know you do), 4 of last month’s 6 posts were not about birds.  Seemed like a break was in order from all the bird posts that were coming at you.  With the new month that ratio will likely swing back a little – really need to get through the Henderson trip so we can get to the other vacations we’ve taken since then.  Hell, there was even another Henderson trip since then and our friends who went with us to Yellowstone this year are already wondering when the pictures will be coming.  So how about a bird post!

What a fantastic idea.    Seems I have a few shots from the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve in Nevada lying around so let’s dust those off (I know I know .. not much of a surprise there).  Today’s featured bird is a revisit of sorts from the first time we covered it back in Nov 2011.  The Great Egret (link here) photographed back then was quite a ways off and pretty hard to make out the details.  This was not the case at the ponds in Henderson.

We were able to get relatively close – close enough at least for the reach of the Beast.  This particular specimen was busy fishing the edges of the pond.  It seemed to be aware we were there and would throw a glance in the direction of the big glass every once in awhile, but beyond that pretty much stay focused on what sustenance the water had to offer.  It has been mentioned many times in this blog that Egrets and Herons are excellent photography subjects thanks to how calm/still they remain while hunting.  Quite handy when the light isn’t optimum since you can open up the aperture or extend the shutter if needed and most of the time the bird will stay stationary long enough to compensate for it.

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this majestic bird!

Continue reading Revisiting the Great Egret – This Time With Foot Zoom