Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Snow Storm

The irruption of snowy owls continues this winter although eventually these magnificent creatures will head back north to stake out territories and breed. But we are enjoying it while it lasts. Case in point was this owl we saw at The Meadows in Cape May last Saturday.

The bird was on the dunes overlooking the Delaware Bay, big white blob easily spotted.

As we walked down the beach a small group assembled to view the bird, with a variety of optical equipment. Bins, scopes, cameras with lenses large and small.

For the most part the bird paid us no mind. Quietly sitting and looking about. But eventually it decided it had had enough of the paparazzi and headed off to town, landing on the roof of a distant building. We would later drive through town looking for the bird, to no avail.

But we had gotten very good looks at regular but usually rare visitor to these parts.


If you've not gone out to see one of these owls time may be running out as eventually they will head back north. The birds are easy to find and once they find a spot to their liking they tend to stay. And an owl may be nearer than you think. I've seen one not ten miles from my home, at the Philadelphia airport. To find an owl near you check out Project SNOWstorm, which is tracking the owls along the east coast of the US. Good luck and good birding if you decide to go.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Once upon a time my mom, a noted technophobe, surprised us by asking for a computer. "Mrs Finnegan [her friend] has one," she explained, "and can't stop talking about how much she likes it." Mom continued, "She keeps up with her grandkids, writes letters, finds recipes and looks up medical info." Mom was sure she'd love it.

Being the family computer maven I landed the procurement assignment. After consulting with my siblings it was decided that we'd all chip in and get her an iMac. A first generation purple iMac.

Mom didn't love it.

But dad did and it quickly became "his" computer. But time and technology kept advancing and eventually the iMac needed to be replaced. Dad is now happily using a late model Mac Mini. And the iMac somehow wound up on the floor in my living room. Where it sat collecting dust for quite some time.

And that's where it was when Patty first saw it. "Why do you have an old iMac in your living room?", she asked. "Because I've nowhere else to put it," I replied (it's a one bedroom condo and I have lots of stuff). "Hmmm ... " she said and I knew she was thinking (she's a good thinker).

Flash forward to Christmas morning (well not really, as we were in Trinidad on Christmas morning, so flash forward to the day near but after Christmas on which we opened presents), where I discovered the results of that thinking. I received a Macquarium kit. The kit, and the iMac, spent another year on my living room floor, although the iMac was disassembled at some point during that time, as travel and Patty's big year competition monopolized out time.

Finally, with the crappy weather we've been having this winter we had a weekend to build our Macquarium.

Lacking instructions, because the website they supposedly were available at was no longer accessible and email requests went unanswered, we were left to our own devices. Did I mention that Patty was a good thinker? That was key as she figured most of it out.

First a bit of tinkering with the innards of the iMac so that the tank would fit flush to the front bezel.

A closeup of the work, grinding out some of the plastic that held the CRT (I told you it was a first generation iMac).

It fits!

Next we add the lights, which required more dremmeling.

Time to add the water and make sure it doesn't leak.

Filled up and filter running.

The next day we added stones, fake plants, and a heater.

We took some of the water out to prepare for adding the fish, which includes adding the water they came with.

There's fish in there now! Three neon tetras, an albino cory catfish, and one mystery fish, a tiny fry of some sort, that got scooped up when we bought the fish.

Some final adjustments. And we're all set.

The three tetras are on the far right (click the image above to bigafy). And below we have a portrait of the catfish.

And finally a shot of the mystery fish, a very tiny fry.

It was a fun and easy project with pretty cool results. Patty  gives me the bestest Christmas presents. She has already procured a second iMac for conversion to a fish home. I think she's hooked.

Images 1, 2, 4, and 7 courtesy of Patty Rehn.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


On Superbowl Sunday (a national holiday here in the States) I spent a good part of the morning pushing this thing ...

... called a "rock" or "stone", from one end of this ice sheet ...

... to the other, trying to get it to come to rest on the target, which is called the "house".

The closest rock to the center spot, known as the "button" scores one point. As do all of the other stones in the house of the same color that are closer to the button than any of the stones of the other color.

Each team consists of four players who each throw two stones.

The game, when played by skilled players has quite a bit of strategy. We were lucky if we got the stone  in the house. But we pretended we knew what we were doing. Above we see the "skip", essentially the team captain, indicate where she wants the thrower to aim the stone.

Those aforementioned skilled players will sweep the ice to make the stone do their bidding, curling into the house or knocking other stones away.

Our sweeping had no noticeable effect on the path of the stone. At least, none I could discern. At least we didn't fall down.

Despite a bit of knee banging we all had a great time. And after the match we all enjoyed a bit of broomstacking.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Plain Sight for Real this Time

We first saw the owl from a distance. We were walking across the park and on top of the far hill I spotted a blob. The binoculars showed it as a bird. The scope as an owl.

We knew this owl was here, and in fact two short-eared owls had been reported at the Pennypack Park in Philadelphia.

We kept walking to get a better view. And we did.

The bird looked at us and decided we weren't worth worrying about and we happily snapped away. Getting great looks.

As we were leaving we ran into some birding friends and as we were pointing out this bird, getting it in the scope for them from the field were we first saw it, the second owl flew over us. So off we went to to get a better look at that bird.

We weren't able to get quite as close as this bird was a bit more skittish. It flew as we approached. Perhaps it was because we were now a group of seven rather than two. Notice that it is much darker than the first bird.

But before it left it regurgitated a pellet, the first time I'd ever seen this, which we were able to collect and examine.

Lacking teeth owls swallow small prey whole and larger prey in chunks, including such indigestible parts such as feathers, fur and bones. These indigestible parts are then regurgitated as pellets. In the pellet we found there were a number of small mammal and bird bones including a small mammal skull.

We would see this second bird again as we were leaving the park and even though it was well up on top of a tree, and we were again only two, it flew off well before we were within a 100 meters. In contrast, the first bird was pretty much in the same place we had first spotted it.

Any day you see an owl is a good day. Seeing a pellet regurgitated was a bonus. And seeing three owls in the same weekend without leaving the city is very cool.

In Plain Sight II

One need not go to Texas to see camouflage in action. We didn't even need to leave Philadelphia.

We saw this owl from the trail at the John Heinz NWR across from the Philadelphia airport.

See it? It is just above center in the image above (remember to click on the image to bigafy it).

How about now?

It's right under the cross branch on the right tree trunk.

There it is!

Long-eared owls will roost all day snuggled up against a tree trunk, heading out at night to hunt. We first spotted the bird as a lump on the side of the tree. Of course, we knew where to look, having been alerted to the location by some birding buddies (and Patty had visited the day before). Often they will roost in groups in a single tree, but we only saw one here. Still owls are always a treat, and getting to see one close to home before breakfast is especially nice.