Saturday, December 31, 2005

Photo of the Year

Once again it is Photo of the Year time, and once again I win because I'm the only one allowed to enter. As judge and final arbiter, I have duly awarded the grand prize to myself, which is (once again) an all-expense paid trip to Keokuk, Iowa in the dead of winter.

That's appropriate because the 2005 POY was taken in Keokuk, Iowa in the dead of winter. It's a bald eagle roosted in a tree above the Mississippi River on a January afternoon.

Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River
January

Here are the other photos I considered. Although I take most of my photos with a Canon 1D Mark II DSLR, three of these (Butterfly, KC Bee and Ireland) were taken with a Canon G6, which is a glorified point-and-shoot.

Gila Woodpecker, I-10 rest stop south of Phoenix.
Woodpecker
March
Verdin, Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix.
Verdin
March
Blue Angels in tight formation, Rhode Island ANG.
Blue Angels
June
Butterfly on a lilly, Aurora, Colorado.
Butterfly
July
Bee, Kansas City.
KC Bee
July
Thatch-roofed cottage, Inis Meáin, Ireland 2005.
Ireland
September
Coyote checks out some road kill in Death Valley.
Yote
October
F-4 Phantom takes off prior to the Heritage Flight at Aviation Nation in Las Vegas.
Phantom
November

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2004. The first two are retroactive since POY didn't officially (whatever that means) start until last year. Although I don't claim to be a birder you may notice a trend here.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I
2002
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins
2003
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers
2004

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Spaceships and Turkeys

When I was blogging about the Kansas Cosmosphere a few months ago, I noticed that with the exception of the Wright Flyer I didn't have any images in my photo galleries of the most important milestones of flight on display in Washington. I have been to the National Air and Space Museum many times, but the most complete set of images I have was taken in 1999 with a one-megapixel Kodak DC-210+ digital camera. The images from this Stone Age device don't measure up to what a modern camera can produce, which is why I didn't have them posted. But for most of these milestones I don't have anything better, and they are worth a look.

In particular, I think this one from 1999 is interesting because it shows in one image (clockwise from top) the X-1 that broke the sound barrier, the X-15 rocket plane that flew at Mach 6, the Wright Flyer, the Apollo 11 command capsule Columbia, a replica of the Viking Mars lander, and the Spirit of St. Louis. The last time I was at the museum nearly two years ago, the Wright Flyer was not in this view because it had been moved to a separate room for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of powered flight.

Milestones of Flight
Milestones of Flight

Seven 1999 images have been added to the Air and Space gallery. I have also added three images to the Backyard Habitat gallery following an encounter with a flock of wild turkeys today. For details see The Turkey Diaries.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bears

Alaska black bear
Please don't shoot me!
New Jersey is staging a black bear hunt this year, only the second since 1970. It's not surprising that the tree huggers and the gun nuts line up on opposite sides of an emotional debate.

"Today, for us, is a very sad day," said the lead tree hugger.

"Bears are beautiful animals, but they've got to be controlled," said one gun nut. "The facts are the facts. They're overpopulated," said another.

The wildlife department estimates there are 1,600 to 3,200 bears in New Jersey. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there were 8.7 million humans in New Jersey in 2004, an increase of nearly 300,000 since the 2000 census. Tell me which species is overpopulated and needs to be controlled.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Light Reading

Speaking of bald eagles, the National Research Council has released the report Water Resources Planning for the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Water. It's a 60-page paperback with an eagle photo on the top third of the front cover.

Here is that photo, which I shot in January of this year. Unlike my Tucson photo that was actually from the Galapagos, this one really was shot on the Upper Mississippi River, just below Lock and Dam 18 in Illinois:

Eagle fishing in the Mississippi
Click for larger version

The report is a bit snooze inducing, but you can buy it for $10.80 or read it online at the National Academies Press web site. There's also a more interesting and readable eight-page PDF summary with the same photo on the front page. The summary can be downloaded from the National Academy of Sciences web site.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Got to Squaw Creek NWR in Mo at 1pm, tens of thousands of snow geese & other waterfowl, 35 eagles, 5 hawks. I'm here through Sunday.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Southwest, Fall 2005

The trip account and photos from my recent trip have been posted and I'm ready for the next one. Last summer when I was exiled to Kansas City I went through Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri a couple of times. The brochures indicated the best time to visit was early December when bald eagles follow migrating waterfowl through the refuge. So that's what I'm doing next week.

Coyote pouncing on something hiding in the bush, Death Valley
Coyote in Death Valley

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Phantom

Everyone who sees this photo says, "Where did you take that from?"


F-4 Phantom jet

I was standing on the ground at Nellis AFB in Nevada and the Phantom was above me. It was turning as it was taking off, and what looks like the ground below is actually the mountains next to the base. But of course if someone asks I don't tell them that right away. I usually say I was floating along in a balloon at about 5,000 feet when this Phantom zoomed below me.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Never throw anything away

On my recent trip I happened to have the same notebook with me that I had during the 2002 Arizona Fall League. I flipped through my photo notes and spotted the name "Jenks". Prior to the World Series just about no one outside of the South Side knew who Bobby Jenks was. He's still not a star, but maybe now he's a celebrity. For what it's worth, here's Bobby Jenks in the 2002 Arizona Fall League, two years before Angels gave up on him and the White Sox claimed him.


Bobby Jenks

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Spending a few hours (no dollars) at the Luxor prior to overnight flight to Boston. Vegas - so much activity so little accomplished.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Taking in the view from Canyon Trail overlook, Bosque. Saw my first bald eagle of the season earlier.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Bosque, Old Reliable

I drove and hiked various trails along the California-Nevada border earlier in the week and rarely saw the advertised wildlife. Except for a coyote and a covey of quail, there wasn't much on the critter front.

Yesterday I flew to Phoenix and today drove on to Socorro, New Mexico. The first order of business was a swing through Bosque del Apache NWR south of town. Within two hours I had photos of 3-4 different types of raptors, including one series very close to what I think was a red-tailed hawk. (Photos when I get back in a couple weeks.) And of course there are the sandhill cranes and assorted ducks and geese. That was just the first afternoon.

That's why I come here. I know I'm going to see something, usually several somethings.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Good day in Death Valley yesterday stalking a coyote. Brown smog over Las Vegas this morning. On to New Mexico, Bosque del Apache NWR.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Vegas

I'm headed to Las Vegas tonight. When I say that it elicits a certain type of response, so I hasten to add that LAS happens to be the closest airport to Death Valley, which is where I'm going first. Casinos, lotteries and other such entities would not exist if they had to depend on me for business.

It will be a wide-ranging trip, also including Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico, the sky islands of southeast Arizona, the Arizona Fall League in the Phoenix area, and the Aviation Nation air show back in Las Vegas. I'll post text message updates throughout the two weeks and eventually there will be photos.

Final item about the World Series: I checked the Venezuelan newspaper at eluniversal.com to see the reaction in Ozzie Guillen's homeland. Since I don't do Spanish I had Google translate it. I was able discern that they are very proud of Oswaldo, but here is proof that online translations are far from perfect:

Now in Chicago one hopes that the other local equipment, the Puppies, that militate in National Liga and which they have not gained a title of the Classic one of October from the season of 1908, is the next ones in putting the ring of winners.

I think it is more likely the 100th anniversary of Orval Overall's '08 series clincher will come and go long before the Puppies enjoy another Classic one of October title.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Longest Day

I heard the end of the third game of the World Series this morning, sometime after 2 a.m. Eastern time. I didn't see it because my eyes were closed, as they are most nights at that time, but I was awake and listening. I heard them say at five hours and 41 minutes it was the longest game in World Series history, but only a tie for most innings, 14.

And they said the other 14-inning game was Boston beating Brooklyn 2-1 in the 1916 World Series, so I looked up the details this morning at Baseball Almanac. The time of game was reported as 2:32.

How can a 14-inning game take twice as long now as 89 years ago? There were 17 pitchers last night, and many of those pitching changes came during innings. Back in 1916, both pitchers went all the way, with Babe Ruth outpitching some guy named Sherry Smith. Fox wasn't producing the show in 1916, so that also sped things up considerably.

Maybe they can't prevent games from going into extra innings and dragging on, but I do have one suggestion for moving things up by 40 minutes – cut out the pregame show. No one cares what Kevin Kennedy and Jeanne Zelasko have to say. Get rid of them, start the game at five minutes after the hour, and maybe we can get done a few minutes before 2:00.

Useless Factoid o' the Day: Fox does not have a monopoly on worthless information. While browsing Baseball Almanac, I found that the winning pitcher for the Cubs in the deciding game of the 1908 World Series was Orval Overall. His bio link says "Nickname: None." With a name like that, you don't need a nickname. With two wins in the series, I guess you could say he was the best pitcher Overall.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Long Climb

The World Series teams are set and it's good to see some new faces in there. I'm usually an American League backer but I have family in Houston so I suppose I should cheer for the Astros, for what it's worth.

This summer at several games, I assumed I was seeing the 2005 National League champs in action. But at the time I assumed it was the three games involving the Cardinals. When I saw the Astros, they were at their much-publicized 15 games under .500.

It turns out I was there when the Astros started to dig themselves out of that huge hole. On May 27, they were 16-31 after dropping the first game of a series against Milwaukee. I saw the next two games that last weekend in May at Miller Park, with the Astros winning an atypical 9-6 slugfest on Saturday, then taking a more characteristic 2-1 win on Sunday with a quality start from Andy Pettitte and a heart-attack save (two on, nobody out) from Brad Lidge.

From May 28 to July 31, the Astros went 41-17 to climb from sixth place in the division to leading the Wild Card race. Next week the World Series comes to the State of Texas for the first time. My useless bit of trivia regarding that is there is now only one early-1960's expansion team that has not been in a World Series – the second incarnation of the Washington Senators, now known as the Texas Rangers. With all the curse-breaking that has been going on in recent seasons, maybe it will be Rangers-Cubs next year...nah, probably not.


Andy Pettitte hurled six shutout innings May 29.

Friday, October 14, 2005

AFL

It's October and we all know what that means for true baseball fans – the Arizona Fall League season is underway. Although I'll probably make it to just three games, this is the seventh time in the last eight years that I'm making the journey west to see the top minor leaguers in action and get a few photos.

In previous years I set up HQ at a Scottsdale hotel because two teams played at Scottsdale Stadium. This year the stadium is being renovated so the two Scottsdale teams are playing at the new Surprise facility on the other side of the valley.

Of course October also means the major league playoffs on TV. Once again we are subjected to the inane utterances of the "analysts" that Fox and ESPN dig up for the occasion. Tim McCarver is just so Profound that after five minutes I want to run out of the room screaming. Mike Piazza, please consider taking a class because the on-the-job training thing just isn't working out. And Steve Lyons, please please please just shut up! Sometimes I try watching with the sound muted, but then I miss the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. For all those TV execs looking for a way to increase revenue, how about offering Pay Per View with NO announcers, NO network promos, and NO junk statistics. I would pay a few dollars for a channel that had just the basic video feed, a few replays (not 10 of each pitch), graphics just for basic stats, and the stadium sound. I've been watching baseball for 40 years; I don't need Fox treating me as if I don't know which end of the bat to hold.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Agua Caliente

There is a 101-acre park in eastern Tucson, Arizona called Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Park. If you pick up the birder's list brochure, you'll see about 150 species listed. There's a photo of a Vermilion Flycatcher on the cover, and a different pose inside. And of course I mention this because those are my photos.


Click for larger image.

The photos were actually taken in the Galapagos, not in Arizona, but Pima County wanted a Vermilion Flycatcher so I was happy to provide it. (For a nominal fee of course.) I'll try to swing through the park when I'm in Arizona in November. There probably won't be any Vermilion Flycatchers – the list says they are common in summer – but I'll see whatever else they have flitting around.

Thanks to Google, I get such requests every once in a while. I haven't seen the publication yet, but I just received a check for a photo of an eagle fishing in the Mississippi. (A decent photo, but I think I can do a lot better.) The National Academy of Sciences wanted it for a brochure assessing the work of the Army Corps of Engineers on the river.

Another recent request was for a red-shouldered hawk. I don't think they were interested in the hawk per se – the publication is a physics textbook, and I think they wanted a photo of a bird sitting on a power line.

So it's nice to make a couple dollars doing something fun but it also highlights how difficult it would be to make a living at it. But if anyone wants to pay me a massive amount of money to go on a wildlife shoot, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Galway

I've been in Galway a few days now and the city is atwitter over the local hurling team playing in the All-Ireland final this weekend. Hurling is a sport where 15 Irishmen to a side chase a ball around, whacking at it and each other with sticks. Or something to that effect. I've been able to stay on my tourism schedule of Connamera on Monday and Inis Mor yesterday. It's a bit rainy today but I will do the Cliffs of Moher later on. They are 700 feet tall so by "do" I mean look at them.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Arrived Ireland

I flew into Ireland overnight. The bus took me from Shannon Airport to Galway, and I was able to see that Ireland in fact is quite green. I was able to get into my hotel a bit after noon, so the first order of business was a nap to supplement the 2-3 hours of sleep I got on the plane. I couldn't figure out how to turn on the lights in the room, but figured it could wait until after the nap. Eventually I did figure it out and felt as triumphant as a caveman flicking a cigarette lighter. You have to put your room key in a slot on the wall. Perhaps every hotel in the world except the U.S. Super 8's to which I am accustomed have this feature. Explorations start tomorrow.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Ballparks

Last weekend I made it to my fourth and fifth major league baseball stadiums this summer, Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. The two home teams did not look good as the Orioles continued their freefall by getting pounded by the A's 12-3, and the punchless Nationals fell to the Cardinals 6-0.

The highlight that made the sports shows from those two games was Albert Pujols getting ejected in the first inning after getting thrown out on a steal attempt. Pujols was not in the umpire's face at the moment; he was warming up in his defensive position at first base. Perhaps Albert said something very nasty to the ump, but the umps need to be reminded that people come to baseball games to see guys like Albert Pujols, not the ump. Lose the rabbit ears.

My tickets to both games were in the upper deck directly behind home plate and cost $27 each including online fees. Oriole Park is supposed to be the model for modern stadiums and RFK is supposed to be a tumbledown stopgap measure, but my experience at RFK was better because my view wasn't obstructed by a constant stream of people going up and down the stairs. It appeared to me that the view from about 10 seats around every upper deck stairwell in Oriole Park is ruined by a design error, which adds up to hundreds of seats. After a few innings of trying to see the batter through the comings and goings of everyone in the section, I moved higher up down the first base line.

RFK
RFK Stadium

I did like the atmosphere around Camden Yards better. Eutaw Street and the big warehouse beyond right field provide a fun atmosphere (and plenty of places to eat) before the game. The atmosphere around RFK is more urban, i.e. plenty of scalpers and hustlers.

Here are the five stadiums I made it to this summer.

  • RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. – Better than I expected. It dates from the early '60's and even though it doesn't have a roof it sort of reminds me of the Astrodome, which was built a few years later. I think they could renovate RFK and make it an OK place for baseball, but of course that's not what they intend to do.
  • Busch Stadium, St. Louis – It probably was the best of the '60's concrete bowls but its remaining lifespan is measured in weeks. The place was full of enthusiastic Midwesterners clad in red, and that will carry over to the new place.
  • Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City – A '70's departure from the ugly bowls, it was a precursor to the baseball-only stadiums of today. Although it is still a fine place to see a baseball game, problems are an awful team and a maintenance controversy with the county, which owns the stadium.
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore – Now more than 10 years old, it helped inspire a flurry of ballpark building in other cities. The carnival beyond right field is fun and different, but the ballpark itself didn't give me a "Wow."
  • Miller Park, Milwaukee – Some of the new parks have retractable roofs, which prevent most weather cancellations but which are gloomy with the roof closed. Unfortunately the two games I saw there, the roof was closed. What I remember most about Miller Park is it had the most tailgating of any baseball park I've seen. It's as if Wisconsin fans use the baseball season as one long practice party before football starts.

Of the new parks, I came away with mixed feelings about Camden Yards and I didn't see Miller Park on its best day. I've been harking back to other ballparks I've seen over the years and they range from utilitarian to special. In addition to the five listed above, they include Baltimore (old), Minnesota (old and new), Houston (old and new), Chicago (both), Anaheim, Atlanta and New York (Yankee Stadium). But only one view in a baseball park gives me a "Wow" time after time – emerging from a tunnel at Fenway Park and having the Green Monster loom into view. Although there are a lot more bad seats than at Camden Yards, every baseball fan should save up their pennies (lots of pennies) and take a trip to Boston and Fenway Park once in their lives.

Although I am planning to take in a few Arizona Fall League games in November, that's the end of my MLB ticket buying for this year. Today I'm off to Ireland for two weeks.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Good crabcake, lots of red brick.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Favorite Places

I've been pondering a "favorite places" list for a while but had trouble whittling it down to a reasonable number. I tried for 10 but couldn't cut it below 12. The criteria I used is places I've been to that I want to visit again someday. For some it's probable that I never will return, such as #1 on the list, Palmer Station, Antarctica. One can always dream. But others on the list I will return to again and again. Click here for my Top 12 Favorite Places


Palmer Station

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Half of the Fun

These days the Twins play in the Baggiedome in downtown Minneapolis, but in the '60's and '70's they were out in the suburbs. My first major league game was at age 11 on June 22, 1968 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

Today the Mall of America sits on the site, but back in 1968 it was baseball under open skies. In the game program (25 cents) it says, "Half of the fun at a ballgame is keeping score," and instructions were provided on how to do so. It didn't say what the other half of the fun was, so I kept score.

Visiting was a mediocre Yankee team, six years removed from winning the World Series and nine years away from winning their next one. Twins pitcher Jim Kaat got the first two Yanks to fly out, but the third connected for a home run. It was my first major league hit, so to speak. Referring to the scoring instructions, next to the name "Mantle" I drew four horizontal bars (four-base hit) and a "7" (to left field) then circled all of it (run scored). The scoreboard flashed the message that it was the 528th home run of Mickey Mantle's career.

Of course I remember that The Mick hit a home run in the first major league game I attended, but documented on the scorecard are forgotten details. For instance, Mantle was playing first base, not the outfield. The designated hitter hadn't been adopted by the American League yet, so I figured the move to first base was because of his knees. Web research today verified that one of the great center fielders of all time spent the last two years of his career at first base due to bad knees, and they were two awful years. He retired after the 1968 season after hitting only .237 with 18 homers in 144 games. The notation on the scorecard that he was playing first base is what compelled me to look it up. Perhaps the "other half of the fun" is looking at a scorecard 37 years later and seeing details and clues that add substance to imperfect memory.

The scorecard also shows: Tony Oliva put the Twins ahead with a two-run homer in the fourth, but the Yankees scratched out four runs in the seventh and won 5-2. Stan Bahnsen allowed six hits (three to Oliva) and struck out nine to get the win. Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew went 0-4. With the help of Baseball Almanac, I have recreated the box score as it would have appeared in the paper the next day.

I have to be in Baltimore next week on business, so I'm going down early to take in weekend games at Camden Yards (Athletics at Orioles) and RFK Stadium (Cardinals at Nationals). I haven't been to either one before so maybe that's what got me thinking about that first game in Minnesota.

Frank Robinson
Frank Robinson tolerates
a snapshot, 1999
Although I haven't been to Camden Yards, I saw the Royals play the Orioles on July 31, 1988 at old Memorial Stadium. At the time, the Royals were in the middle of the pack (51-52 according to the Baseball Almanac) and the Orioles were simply awful (32-70). The Oriole manager was Frank Robinson, who had replaced Cal Ripken, Sr. early in the season. Once again, my scorecard scratchings reveal forgotten details of the game.

The Royals had two on and two out in the fourth when Vincent Edward "Bo" Jackson launched a moonball that would have hit the roof if there had been one. The outfielders drifted slowly back, waiting for what seemed like several minutes for the ball to return to earth. When it did, it was just over the wall in right-center for a three-run homer. I remember Bo's moonball, but the scorecard fills me in on some of the other details: On base for Bo were the famous George Brett (hit by pitch) and the infamous Bill Buckner (double). In the ninth, Cal Ripken, Jr. hit a solo homer for the Orioles to break up the shutout, but Charlie Liebrandt went on to finish a complete game four-hitter, 4-1. Here's the box score at Baseball Almanac.

The O's finished 54-107 that year. I will see Frank Robinson, now manager of the Nationals, put a better team on the field this Sunday than he was able to back then. I've gotten out of the habit of buying programs and keeping score but maybe I'll revive that practice this weekend.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Worst to First

Tony Graffanino said all the right things when he left Kansas City a few weeks ago, but he must have been pinching himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming. The Royals, the worst team in baseball, traded him to the defending World Series champion Red Sox.

Since arriving in Beantown, Graffanino has been a vital cog in the infield as the Bosox have built up a 4.5-game lead over the Yanks. Meanwhile, back in KC, his former mates have lost 15 in a row and now lag the Chisox by 36.5 games.

My work-related stint of four months in Kansas City was over last Friday, so I boarded a plane and followed Graffanino to New England. I just added a photo page for the Kansas Cosmosphere and a couple final images to the Western Missouri page, so I'm going to declare my summer 2005 photo album to be complete. Here's a dragonfly that I got with the G6 at the Lakeside Nature Center in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. It would have been easier to get this shot and a few others I didn't even try if I'd had my DSLR and 300mm f4 lens. Oh well, this one turned out OK.


Dragonfly

You also may notice that the Blog Archives now includes entries from 1998-2000. I have been adding baseball-related items that I posted on my web site back then, which was called Squeezebunt.com at the time. I don't know if the word "blog" had been invented yet, but I basically did a monthly baseball blog for two years.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Smokey and Sturgis

A news item caught my eye this week – a new Smokey Bear hot-air balloon made its first appearance this week at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

Where do I start with this one? My Dad was with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks in the 1960's and was very involved in promoting forest fire prevention. We always had Smokey the Bear knick-knacks and literature around the house. I thought it was cool to see the Smokey Bear balloon at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta last October.

Cool at least until Smokey got impaled on a 600-foot radio tower. Pilot Bill Chapel and two young passengers rescued themselves by climbing down the tower's ladder. When's the last time you had to climb down a 600-foot ladder? I literally had nightmares about that for several days afterward. The pilot of the new balloon is the same Bill Chapel. I would think that getting popped by a very tall tower would cure you of ballooning forever, but maybe that's just me.

Anyway, the news clip was a reminder that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is this week. I grew up in the Black Hills so I knew that every August there were a lot of motorcycles on the roads. The rumor was there was some sort of debauchery going on up in Sturgis. In 1978 I did my college journalism internship at the Sturgis newspaper, so the first week in August I found myself immersed in the middle of thousands of bikers. I must not have been too traumatized because after graduation I joined the paper full time.

I recall going to the home of J.C. and Pearl Hoel to do an interview about times past. As the acknowledged founder of the Rally, J.C. ("Pappy") was a legend, but I remember him as a cooperative but sort of deaf old gent. He talked about working as a young man in the family business, which was cutting and storing ice in the winter and delivering it in the summer. In 1936 when refrigeration was making ice delivery obsolete, he bought an Indian motorcycle franchise. Pappy founded the Jackpine Gypsies in 1937 and helped start the Rally in 1938. (Pappy died in 1989 at age 84; Pearl died just this year at age 99.)

What started as a little gathering of Pappy, Pearl and their Jackpine Gypsies friends took on more of an edge as it got bigger. It's all sort of a blur now, but I do recall that at least some of the rumors of debauchery turned out to be true. Up until 1982 there was still camping in the Sturgis City Park. After a near riot in the park that year, I reported on a series of public meetings as the city's citizens wrung their hands over whether it was worth it to endure the massive disruptions brought by the event. Ultimately they decided it was, and now it's (supposedly) 10 times bigger than it was back then. There were changes – camping was banned in the park and much of the partying moved, out of sight and out of mind, to private campgrounds outside of city limits.

To me, Rally week was the time every year when an extraordinary number of drunks showed up, somewhat interesting because of its scope but not something I would attend of my own volition. The high school football season that followed was much more fun for me. My favorite memory as a reporter in Sturgis was when the 1983 Sturgis football team (Brown High School) cruised to 11 straight wins before falling in the state championship game. I left town the following year and went back to graduate school to get a business degree. I don't see that it would be much fun for me in Sturgis now; the Rally has only gotten bigger and more crowded (supposedly 500,000 participants), and in a few weeks the high school football team will bring a state-record 67-game losing streak into the season opener against the defending state champs. Oof!

So I'm not a biker, but maybe those six Rallies 1978-83 had some lasting effect. I'm watching American Chopper right now. Vinnie and Rick are the real stars. They should have their own show.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Performance Enhancers

So Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended for flunking a steroids test. Where will it all end? It won't. When lots of dollars are at stake, competitors will seek an edge, legitimate or otherwise. This is not a new concept! But when there are rules in place and it is proven that a competitor violates them, there should be consequences.

That means suspensions and fines of course, but I also think it would be beneficial to cut down on the garbage masquerading as news. I propose that players who get caught receive extra punishment if they tell us they were set up or it is all a mistake. I propose that teammates, team management, agents, family members, and the President of the United States (a pal of Palmeiro's) be flogged for acting as apologists and enablers. I propose that reporters, columnists and commentators who heard the chant of "Steroids!" directed at Jose Canseco way back in the '80's be prohibited, barred and enjoined upon threat of imprisonment from now acting surprised or indignant about recent revelations.

Finally, I propose that the Baseball Hall of Fame be closed to new inductees after next year. This is the consequence baseball and its players should suffer for perpetuating an institutional lie for so long, and would end the annoying debate about whether the chemical heroes of recent years deserve to be inducted.

But why wait until next year? Relief ace Bruce Sutter is the leading candidate for induction in '06. In fact, back in 1999 when I wrote on Squeezebunt.com about meeting Sutter and Frank Robinson, I assumed both of them were Hall-of-Famers and identified them as such. I was stunned later when I found out that Sutter hadn't been elected yet. What do you mean one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time isn't in the HOF? Sutter seemed like a nice guy so I'll vouch for him; I detected no roid rage. (Robinson, on the other hand, was a bit grumpy.)


Sutter

The situation changes drastically after next year. Canseco, Mark McGwire, and deceased drug addict Ken Caminiti are eligible for election in '07. Although McGwire is the only realistic selection of those three, it shows that the steroid era is about to hit Cooperstown hard.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Cosmosphere

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on the Washington National Mall is the most-visited museum in the world, attracting nearly 10 million visitors a year (including me more than once). It brings some of the most significant artifacts in flight and space history together in one place: the Wright 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the X-1 Glamourous Glennis in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and the Apollo 11 command module Columbia. As you might expect, the museum has the world's largest collection of space artifacts.

But where is the world's second-largest space collection, including the Apollo 13 command module Odyssey? The answer is far from obvious, far from just about anywhere – the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, 50 miles northwest of Wichita.

Located next to the Hutchinson Junior College football stadium is a world-class space museum and the world's premiere facility for restoring historic spacecraft. When the second manned Project Mercury capsule, Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7, was recovered from the ocean floor in 1999 thirty-eight years after it sank, it went to the Cosmosphere for restoration. The capsule went on tour starting in 2001, and will go on permanent display in Hutchinson next year. There is a Glamourous Glennis reproduction on display which the Cosmosphere made for the movie, The Right Stuff. Right now they are working on restoring a couple of Project Gemini capsules.

The most significant big items currently on display are Odyssey, the Gemini X capsule, a flown Soviet Vostok, the wreckage of unmanned Mercury capsule MA-1, an SR-71 spy plane looming over the lobby, and a Redstone rocket out front. There's also an huge assortment of other items, ranging from Saturn I engines to astronaut toiletry kits. The museum displays are very well done and contain an incredible amount of information. My only complaint is there was no detailed program or brochure available. If you wanted to know about a display, you had to read about it there. There is a Quicktime guided tour on the web site, but I don't know how good it is because my company laptop won't run it. I'll have to run it when I get home in two weeks.

I was really interested in the display of cameras used by the astronauts. Most of the cameras were fairly standard models. There was a Hasselblad 500EL with a 60mm lens that would be fun to borrow for the weekend, but that's probably out of the question since it came back from the Moon on Apollo 14. 'Blads have detachable film magazines, so the Moon walkers brought the film magazines back but to save weight left the camera bodies on the Moon, all except the one on display at the Cosmosphere.

The Cosmosphere began as the Hutchinson Planetarium in the poultry building at the state fairgrounds in 1962. See this link for the story on how it evolved into a world-class space museum and restoration facility. I remember that I first heard about the Kansas Cosmosphere when Liberty Bell 7 was recovered. I came across the name again when looking for something to do over the weekend and wondered, "How far is that from KC?" Turns out it's 215 miles, so I drove over on Sunday morning. If you include all the shows at the IMAX theater, the Planetarium, and Dr. Goddard's Lab you could probably fill up the entire day, but I had to drive back the same day so I just toured the museum. It gets only about three percent of the number of visitors as the museum in DC, but if some quirk of fate steers you through central Kansas someday, the Cosmosphere is definitely worth a stop.

Apollo 13
Apollo 13 command module Odyssey

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Squaw Creek NWR

I could have sworn there was a lake at Squaw Creek NWR last time I was there. Now you have to take a second look to see the water below the vegetation. There's lot of water lilies, and lots of frogs. If you look closely at this image, below the flower on the left is a little frog.

Lilly and frog
Click for larger image.

I got some very distant shots of the eagles, not worth posting. But it's apparent the juvenile has fledged as it was perched in a tree a couple hundred yards from the nest. One of the parents was in a nearby tree, keeping watch.

I now see a bald eagle adult & fledgling at Squaw Creek NWR in Missouri. Lots of frogs, deer, raccoons, & of course many types of birds.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Fountains at Night

I've been intending to get out with a tripod and shoot some fountains at night. I finally did it last night, first getting a few shots of the tower at Liberty Memorial as the sun was setting, then continuing on down the hill to the fountain in front of Union Station.


Liberty Memorial at sunset.

The people in front of the fountain were waiting for a photographer to set up a shot. They and the water are blurry because it is about an eight-second exposure.


Union Station and fountain.

The usual disclaimer from this summer in KC applies: These were shot as JPGs. I may post some better ones after I can convert my RAW files and see what I have. See Western Missouri 2005 for more photos in and around Kansas City.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

View from the Tower

When I first started visiting Kansas City in 1986, Union Station was a municipal embarrassment and the Liberty Memorial wasn't far behind. Recently a lot of money was spent to bring these two significant properties up to date.

The Liberty Memorial is the nation’s official World War I monument, but when I first saw it, it seemed on the verge of becoming a neglected ruin. $30 million was spent on renovation from 2000-2002, and once again it’s an appropriate memorial to the cataclysm that has now almost entirely slipped into history. The two buildings flanking the tower contain some interesting museum exhibits, and work is proceeding on an expanded museum located beneath the monument, with opening scheduled for 2006.

The tower is 217 feet tall and has an observation deck, with an elevator that gets visitors most of the way to the top. Sunday I decided to check out the view. Closest to the memorial is Union Station, which was a decrepit hulk when I first saw it in 1986. It took $250 million to renovate it in 1997-99. Some of the money went into construction of the attached Science City and theaters, but a big chunk of cash was necessary just to restore the old building to a usable condition. They did a great job on the restoration and I highly recommend a visit. But it’s a white elephant, utterly impractical. Here’s an instructive comment from the Mayor’s Union Station Task Force Report released three months ago:

During the first five years of operation, a great deal of effort was expended to achieve sustainable success but, subsequent performance clearly demonstrated that income generating expectations of Science City, the theaters and other attractions had been overly optimistic. In retrospect, the advice of a number of early consultants was flawed. The concept that the anchor attractions–in this case, Science City and an IWERKS theater—could fund the operations of the entire Union Station complex was wrong. In fact, the recent comparative study of similar venues around the country argues that permanent museum venues do well to break even financially on a standalone basis.

Oh well. I wonder how long it will be before it is an eyesore again.


Union Station at left, Crown Center at right, downtown in the background.

Monday, July 18, 2005

What I Did This Summer.

My bird feeders were empty when I got home last Thursday because I hadn't been home for a month. Within a day of replenishing the sunflower and thistle seeds, visitors including a cardinal, a rose-breasted grosbeak pair, plenty of goldfinches, a clever chipmunk, and a large bluejay returned to the feeders. I haven't done a photo session through my back window this year, but the page Backyard Habitat has images from previous years.

I managed to get my Photoshop chores done and most of the Summer 2005 photos have been posted, including Western Missouri, Blue Angels, St. Louis, Colorado, and Milwaukee/Green Bay. I also thought the color was weird on this year's Braintree Hawks photos so I redid those. I still have another month to go in the Kansas City area so there may be some more photo ops that will end up on the Western Missouri page. Below is one of the photos from the St. Louis trip that was shot as Canon RAW and processed in Photoshop. I would rather shoot RAW unless there's a reason not to because there is more leeway for adjustments. If you don't like processing digital images, then shoot JPG and delete the bad ones. But when shooting an unpredictable subject such as wildlife, I would rather have a chance to save an image where the automatic white balance and exposure aren't quite perfect. This one didn't require much adjusting.


Humboldt Penguin, St. Louis Zoo

Gadget of the Day: Children are our future. They also can be annoyingly noisy. Such was the case with one little "darling" on the flight from Providence to Kansas City today. Fortunately I had my new Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Noise Cancelling Headphones. By themselves, the headphones will completely blot out such background noise as a home refrigerator or furnace, and will substantially reduce louder noise such as a jet engine. It's a weird experience the first time you put them on, like you have to pop your ears. But they need to be plugged into something like an MP3 player to cancel a five-year-old kid, or any sound other than background noise. Fortunately I had both the headphones and my Flashtrax in my carry-on. The Lizard King blotted out the relentless jabbering.

During the time when cell phones were still allowed prior to takeoff, I noticed that the headphones picked up some interference from them. (With the cell phones off, there was no interference. 2+2=4.) There are other brands of noise-cancelling headphones that are less expensive, but Bose seems to be the standard setter in this area and I went with my brother's experience with this model.

And in case anyone doesn't know, "The Lizard King" is another name for Jim Morrison of "The Doors."

Monday, July 11, 2005

KC by Bus

I had a rental car reserved for the weekend but cancelled it. I reasoned that Kansas City bus routes covered my two intended destinations, the zoo on Saturday and Kauffman Stadium on Sunday.

Unlike my visit to the St. Louis Zoo a few weeks ago, I didn't have another engagement or a rainstorm cutting into my time at the Kansas City Zoo. I covered most of it in about four hours. The featured exhibit of the summer is the white tiger on loan from the zoo in Omaha. The big cat cooperated by rising from a slumber and taking about a minute to reposition in a cooler spot, but I declined to take any photos due to the metal cage surrounding the animal. What's the point of shooting through obvious wiring or bars?

Two Saddle-Billed Storks from Africa were more interesting to me because of their colorful heads and more natural habitat. The birds' white saddle patch showed up as an overexposed white blotch on my JPG images. I also took some RAW images which should provide the opportunity to pull some detail out of the white.

For now the best photo I have from Saturday further demonstrates the macro capability of the Canon G6. It was taken at the zoo, but it's an ordinary Missouri bee on an ordinary Missouri flower.


KC Bee

At Sunday's baseball game, I got a cheap seat in the upper deck, and from there noticed Twins first baseman Jason Morneau drawing arcs with his toe after just about every pitch. Every three innings the grounds crew came out and wiped the slate clean, and he started over. This is one of those pointless things that gets noticed on a hot, lazy summer day. If Morneau's uniform looks sort of strange, the teams were wearing historical Negro Leagues uniforms of the 1909 St. Paul Gophers and 1948 Kansas City Monarchs. The 1909 uniforms were especially baggy.


Morneau drawing. Click for larger version


Grounds crew erases the slate. Click for larger version

The game was Royals DH Mike Sweeney taking on the Twins by himself, with the Twins pulling out a 3-2 victory in 12 innings. Sweeney had two solo home runs and barely missed a third, but his teammates provided no offensive assistance. The Twinkies scored the winning run when Torii Hunter sent a grounder and a broken bat barrel toward Royals third baseman Mark Teahan. Playing for a team 27 games out of first place, it's hard to criticize Teahan if a jagged piece of wood flying toward him interfered with his fielding.

There has been controversy lately over millions of dollars of deferred maintenance at Kauffman Stadium, but as a casual observer it wasn't obvious to me where the deficiencies are. Besides Dodger Stadium, I don't think there is another contender for best baseball stadium built between 1923 and 1989. Most of the rest of them have already been demolished, or should be. There were a lot of Twins fans in attendance, which I theorized is due to their desire to see their team playing in a real ballpark instead of a shopping mall.

Regarding the bus trips, I concluded that Kansas City is not one of those places where it would be possible to have a "normal" life without a car. The buses got me where I was going, eventually, but I would find it hard to live with the severe limitations. Taking the Royals Express to a baseball game from a downtown or Plaza hotel makes sense if the alternative is renting a car and paying $9 for parking, but "Express" is not an accurate title. The bus made at least a dozen turns to hit all the downtown stops before heading to the stadium, even cutting through a parking lot at one point.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Wildflowers

The most exotic wildlife I saw in Colorado over the long Fourth of July weekend was a bunny at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, but everywhere I went there were lots and lots of wildflowers. The Canon G6 was put to the test shooting the blooms, and I also tried it on a fireworks display one night. See previous blog entries for the butterflies and fireworks I posted over the weekend.

Because I'm away from my RAW converters and Photoshop for another few weeks, I shot mostly JPG files. One problem with this is I wasn't willing to use automatic white balance for shooting fireworks, so I puzzled for a while what setting to use. I eventually settled on the flash setting. (That's the flash white balance setting; the flash itself was turned off.) In retrospect, I wonder if I should have just selected daylight. With RAW I wouldn't have to make that decision until later. Anyway, shooting fireworks was good practice for another attempt next month.

Besides the bunny, I saw this vegetation at Rocky Mountain Arsenal.


Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR

Monday, July 04, 2005

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Colorado

Arrived in Colorado yesterday for a weekend with family over the 4th of July. I snapped these images of a butterfly in my sister's back yard this morning.


Butterfly


Flutterby

Monday, June 27, 2005

St. Louis

I've been through St. Louis a number of times but never spent any time in the city. The last transit was 17 months ago after my first eagle trip to Keokuk. I camped out in a hotel near the St. Louis airport on Super Bowl Sunday (Pats 32, Panthers 29) hoping a winter storm wouldn't prevent me from flying back to DC the next day.

This weekend I took the short Southwest hop from Kansas City to St. Louis to look around, take in a couple of Cardinal games, and give my new Canon G6 digital camera its first real workout. There was no possibility of wintery weather this time as temperatures topped out in the high 90's each day. On Saturday my first stop riding in from the airport on the Metrolink was Forest Park. The bus stop to ride into the park looked crowded and the entrance was within sight, so I started walking. It took about 45 minutes of strolling to reach the St. Louis Zoo.

In the River's Edge section, the best exhibit is the hippo tank which was constructed to provide an underwater view. I also got a look at a capybara, giant anteaters, a black rhino, hyenas, mongoose, and elephants. I don't mean to be a snob, but when I saw the giant tortoises from the Seychelles I didn't bother to stop because I didn't see how it could be more interesting than seeing Galapagos tortoises in the wild. I paused at a sea lion pond for a rest, then came to a couple of small, very active Malaysian Sun Bears. I lingered there for a while then continued on to the other bears. Most of them were trying to avoid the heat and were resting, but a couple of huge griz were pacing around. Again, it was not quite as impressive as seeing griz in the wild in British Columbia, but I watched them for a while.

After a lunch of sorts I headed to the penguin and puffin exhibit. Outside they have Humboldt Penguins from the temperate climate of Chile. This was a new species to me so I tried to get some good shots as they preened just a couple feet away. The penguins from further south are inside a dome that is cooled to 45 degrees, so going in there was quite a change from the sweltering heat. Here they have Gentoos and Rockhoppers, which I have seen before, but they also have the larger King Penguins which were new to me. Continuing on, Horned and Tufted Puffins shared another cooled dome. The Atlantic Puffins I saw in the Gulf of Maine last year are similar to the Horned Puffins, but the Tufted variety is different and (in my opinion) not as cute.

I covered less than half the zoo in about three hours, so if I ever go back there will be plenty left to see. It was starting to rain, so I decided to head for my hotel downtown. I found a bus stop as the rain became a downpour, and stood there for what seemed like forever until the bus appeared. By the time the bus got back to the rail station the rain had almost stopped, but I was thoroughly soaked. The hotel only had a smoking room available when I checked in, so in order to get out of my wet clothes I took it rather than waiting a couple of hours for a non-smoking room. And of course the first thing I did after getting out of the wet was to jump in the pool.

I also managed to squeeze in a short nap before walking over to Busch Stadium, which is being torn down after this season to be replaced by a new Busch Stadium next door. As I found my seat, the history of the place started to seep in. "Wow," I thought. "This is where the Red Sox won the World Series." No doubt anyone there wearing a red cap and shirt would start with something other than last year's World Series fiasco when reflecting on the 40 years the Cardinals have played at this venue.


Old Busch Stadium

Old Busch Stadium opened in 1966 and resembles other multipurpose stadiums of the era such as the since-demolished bowls in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Comparing it to a modern facility such as Miller Park in Milwaukee, the deficiencies of Busch Stadium quickly become apparent. I'm not going to cite a laundry list of shortcomings, but I thought the worst part was just walking out of the park after the game due to inadequate exit gates and stairways. As I said, the new stadium is being built right next door to the existing structure, but it's apparent they are going to have do demolish a large portion of the old stadium to finish the new one. If the Cards make the World Series, there's going to be less than six months to do a lot of work.

The Cards' record indicates they are the best team in the National League, and they played like it Saturday evening in drilling the Pirates 8-0. Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and some guy named Yadier Molina hit home runs, and Chris Carpenter pitched a four-hit shutout to pick up his 11th win. On Sunday I walked around the Arch and other downtown sites before heading back to Busch for a 1:15 start. The Cards jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Reggie Sanders and that guy Molina hit homers, but after that the home team dozed off and the Pirates came back to win 5-4 in 10 innings. After the game I caught the Metrolink back to the airport and returned to KC.

One way I judged the G6 was to see whether an image was usable without resizing. This image of Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa is a 500x375 crop of the original 7-megapixel image. I did my usual levels adjustment and sharpening. Although it is far from perfect, I think it is pretty good considering that 97.4% of the original image has been cropped away.


Tony LaRussa

The G6 has a built-in neutral density (ND) filter which electronically makes the camera less sensitive and allows the use of slow shutter speeds. The usual usage of this is to for shooting waterfalls and fountains at a low shutter speed with the camera mounted on a tripod, giving the water a wispy appearance. However, I found myself using it when shooting the Arch with the sun behind it. Even though the sun was blocked by the Arch there was so much light that at the camera's smallest aperture of f/8, the maximum shutter speed of 1/2000 was still too slow. I dialed in the ND and got this:


Arch

After using the G6 intensively for a couple of days, the main thing I don't like about it is the lens cap. It doesn't feel real secure so it has to be attached to the neck strap, but the way it attaches isn't very elegant. With my S45 you don't have to worry about a lens cap, and with my 1D the cap is either securely on the lens or in my pocket. I'm getting used to the G6 menus and controls, so I'll attribute any difficulty with them to a learning curve.

St. Louis provided an interesting diversion for the weekend and I wouldn't mind going back to see more of the zoo and the new ballpark when it opens. When I first started coming to KC in the late 80's, there was no doubt downtown existed only between 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. Downtown KC isn't quite as dead now, but it seems St. Louis provides an example of what many cities would like to have: A downtown that is busy day and night, seven days a week. KC is putting $250 million into a new downtown arena, but it's going to take a lot more than the Arena Football League or the WNBA (or even the NBA or NHL) to give KC what St. Louis has with Busch Stadium and the Cardinals, which is tens of thousands of people coming into downtown 81 or more times a year, renting hotel rooms, eating in restaurants, and making the city alive.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Walked around the Arch then saw the Cards mess up today's game and lose to the Pirates 5-4 in 10 innings. Back to KC tonight.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Cards at home leading Pirates 5-0 after 4. I'm surprised they let me in without a Rolen or Pujols shirt. Everyone else has one.

Up before dawn, heading to St. Louis for Cards-Pirates tonight and tomorrow. Hot, hot, hot.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Blue Angels and Snowbirds

The Blue Angels and the Canadian Snowbirds were the center of attention at the Rhode Island Air National Guard Air Show at Quonset Point, Rhode Island over the weekend.

The Blue Angels of course is the name of the U.S. Navy's flight demonstration team. The team staged its usual display of aerobatic skill and power with its six F/A-18 Hornets. Besides the blue and gold paint, these are the same advanced fighter/attack aircraft flown off of U.S. Navy carriers.

Blue Angels over Rhode Island
Blue Angels over Rhode Island

The Canadian Snowbirds are not elderly Canucks in RVs, but the Canadian Defence Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron. The team flies a much less powerful jet, the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, a training craft. It isn't even the current military trainer used by Canada, but the nine aircraft still make an elegant sight as the team members perform their precise maneuvers.

Saturday it was overcast for the Heritage Flight featuring an F-86 Sabre from the 1950's and two modern fighters, the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Falcon. It was still overcast for the Snowbirds, but cleared partially in time for the Blue Angels. Saturday's clouds probably kept a few people away and traffic wasn't too bad getting in and out. Everyone showed up instead on Sunday, Father's Day. Despite leaving an hour earlier than the day before, I missed the Heritage Flight and got to the front gate just as the Snowbirds were starting. There were enough blue skies to get a few decent shots, then it clouded over again, then finally it started clearing as time for the Blue Angels approached.

Snowbirds
Snowbirds and Saturday's clouds

Both days I shot with my Canon 1D Mark II DSLR and 100-400mm lens. I usually just set the mode on "P" and ISO on 250. When it was sunny, this produced an exposure of about 1/800 at F/10. For those shots where the solo fliers rush at each other at a combined speed of 1,200 miles per hour and cross at center line, I set "AV" mode (shutter priority) with a shutter speed of 1/400 and panned with the plane approaching from the right. With the shutter knashing at eight frames per second, hopefully this meant I would get one frame where the plane from the right is sharp and the plane from the left is going by in a blur. I got a few decent ones but I didn't surpass some of my shots from the 2003 show.

I'm also posting one image taken with my new G6. It's of the Blue Angels' support aircraft, "Fat Albert," a Marine C-130. With the G6 topping out at 140mm I think it would have been possible to get a few decent formation shots. But for the opposing solos, gotta have that telephoto and eight frames per second.

[Photos]

Friday, June 17, 2005

G6 Daisy

This weekend I plan to shoot the Blue Angels at their show in Rhode Island, and there's no better camera for shooting an air show than a Canon 1D Mark II with a Canon 100-400 lens. The lens is long enough to get tight on the solo planes, yet can also widen out for larger formations.

Yep, nothing better. And nothing heavier. I've been mulling over an Ireland trip for the past year or so, but I just didn't see lugging the heavy artillery with me. My research indicates the interesting photographic subjects in Ireland tend to be 5,000-year-old stone structures. Additional research revealed that they are easy to sneak up on, eliminating the need for an image-stabilized 100-400mm white lens.

But I wanted something with more capability than my little S45. I bit the bullet and put in an order for a Canon Powershot G6. It's somewhat large for a point-and-shoot camera, but tiny compared to an SLR. The G-line has been well regarded for a number of years now, and the G6 has been around for nearly a year. Including charger and two batteries, my G6 travel kit weighs in at less than two lbs. (26 ounces). My 1D Mark II travel kit including the charger, two batteries, and the light 28-300 lens that I don't really like would be more than seven lbs. (116 ounces). With two good lenses instead of the cheapo, add another 3.5 lbs for a total of nearly 11 lbs.

I probably sound like a Canon commercial sometimes (and I hereby volunteer to appear in Maria Sharapova's next Powershot ad), but one reason I went with a Canon rather than equally-capable prosumer cameras from Sony, Olympus or Nikon is compatibility with what I already have. It's not just that I don't have to buy new memory cards. I can use the battery from my ZR-60 videocam as a backup for the G6. (As a side benefit, the G6 came with an external charger which the ZR-60 did not.) I can even use my Speedlite 380EX flash unit. The external flash gives the option of using a much more powerful flash when the situation requires (although it does make the camera rather top heavy). The G6 has been officially designated as my "Ireland camera" and I hope it lives up to its name in September.

Until then, it goes to Kansas City in place of all my other stuff. The 35-140mm equivalent lens really isn't long enough to do sports, but I'll take to St. Louis for a couple of Cardinals games next weekend. I'm also looking forward to shooting fireworks with it. The little remote that's included will be ideal for setting off 4-second time exposures of fireworks. Next I'll probably figure out what attachments I need to use it with a telescope.

I'm sure there will be many occasions in the future when I'll lug the heavy backpack, but now I've got an alternative for those times when it just doesn't make sense. Here's one of my first attempts, a macro shot of a daisy that popped up in my unmowed front lawn.


Volunteer Daisy

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Braintree Hawks 2005

Fortunately my employment does not require spending weekends at the office, but I did find a reason to head to the office Sunday – the Braintree Hawks.

Since 2002, May has been the month to watch red-tailed hawks being born and raised in our office park at the edge of the Blue Hills. The locale is the city of Braintree just south of Boston. The two parents built a nest in a tree just 50 feet or so from the building, and raised single chicks in 2002 and 2003, and twins in 2004. In 2002 while I was still shooting film, I got some good closeups of the fledgling Junior I. He camped out on a canopy just outside of our lunchroom for a couple of days, and it was there that he waited for his parents to drop off his lunch. In 2003, I was ready with my Canon 1D DSLR as Junior II posed on a picnic table right outside the window of our library. In 2004, I pointed a Canon ZR60 digital camcorder at the nest and let it run for an hour at a time as the twins Junior IIIa and IIIb grew up.

For whatever reason, the parents decided to build a new nest across the street this year, about 125 feet further away and much more difficult to see from our vantage point. Another problem is I've been in Kansas City instead of Braintree since mid-April. Junior IV probably hatched around May 1, so I was missing his childhood. When I was back in New England this weekend I headed over to salvage something from the year.

Back in April I knew the parents were building the new nest and I scouted for a good vantage point. I decided on a spot under the old nest, across the street from the new one. This spot gave me some elevation, but was far enough away that shooting with a long lens on an SLR would not produce interesting results. Instead, I planned to use my Televue 85 telescope.

With a 13mm Nagler eyepiece on the telescope, the view of Junior IV in the nest was quite stunning. The Nagler provided a wide field of view with 46x magnification. If weight is no object, a Televue 85 with a premium eyepiece such as a Nagler is better than any spotting scope. (But it is heavy.) After scoping out Junior IV for a while (and not seeing the parents anywhere in sight) I swapped out the eyepiece for my digiscoping equipment, my Canon S45 camera joined to a Meade 15mm Plössl eyepiece. The magnification was 40x with that eyepiece, but due to the way everything fits together the field of view was much narrower than I had observed directly with the Nagler. Junior IV filled the frame, so much so that I backed off to a 20mm eyepiece, 30x magnification.


Junior IV

The S45 doesn't have a remote, so to get steady images I had to set the camera's timer. Two seconds wasn't long enough for the tripod to settle down, and the only other option was 10 seconds. So I just fired away, 5-6 shots a minute, hoping that Junior IV would raise his head as the time expired each time. I also took a couple minutes of video with the S45.

Eventually my battery ran out and Junior IV settled down for a rest. I probably wasn't there for more than 45 minutes. The photos and video I have posted aren't that great, but to me even a fleeting glimpse of a red-tailed hawk is worth a Sunday drive, especially if it's the new baby of old friends.

Links:

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On Wisconsin

I returned to Kansas City this morning after the long holiday weekend in the Milwaukee area. I was born in Wisconsin so it could be said it was a homecoming of sorts, but actually I've never been in Milwaukee before, my family left LaCrosse on the other side of Wisconsin when I was age 1, and this trip represented more time in the state than any previous visit that I recall.

I wanted to accomplish three things over the weekend: Visiting Horicon National Wildlife Refuge northwest of Milwaukee, taking in a Brewers baseball game or two, and touring the legendary home of the Green Bay Packers, Lambeau Field. And that's what I did. I decided to travel light and not take binoculars or a good telephoto lens. On one hand that was a mistake because I missed having them, but on the other hand my bag was still plenty heavy.

What photos I did take were with the awful Tamron 28-300 on my Canon 1D Mark II, and my Canon S45 point-and-shoot. The Tamron is so light compared to my Canon "L" lenses, but it is not a good lens. My dilemna for next month is what to take on a baseball trip to St. Louis. The debate will go on inside my head until I have to pack. Here's one from the Tamron that at least shows what it is supposed to show, the sausage race during Sunday's baseball game. If you don't get it, there's no way to explain it.


Sausage Racing

This is the first trip where I've been able to web post brief (very brief) text updates using my cell phone. This capability is the primary reason I'm using Blogger or Blogspot or whatever they call this site. "I can see two harriers right now," demonstrates the potential of instant text updates. This would be really cool if I actually had something to say. If I had a camera phone I could also send images, but the only camera phone supported by VirginMobile is a tiny 0.3 megapixels.

If I can perform some miracles with Photoshop, I may post a few more photos in a few weeks.