Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Birds and Beer (start a hobby this holiday)

Some things take that personal touch to fully enjoy...

I have been home brewing my own beer about as long as I have been an avid birder. Each time I successfully bottle the finished product I feel an immense sense of accomplishment. You may say and ask, "I'm sure anyone can probably brew their own beer Birdstud. What makes home brewing so special for you?" My answer is, "It just is." For some reason the two diverse activities delight me in their own unique ways; variety, unpredictability, and the requirement of a modicum of expertise and yet a pinch of (on the fly) invention. These ingredients make up the top four reasons I gravitate towards any activity.

Bird watching for instance provides a person with all of these by the virtue of - Chance guided by Intuition and Experience. Beer making is exactly like that too. Take a simple recipe and all of the necessary ingredients, carefully combine them and wait for the results. Do that a couple of times and soon you are tinkering and experimenting for just the right end product. Similarly, bird watching allows the novice to have an equal opportunity for success as the veteran might. How many birders have been in the presence of a new-bee bird watcher who scores something really cool when the old-timers totally missed the encounter? Probably all of them at one time or another. The more often you participate in something people, the better you get and the more experience you take to the task next time. Birding is (for me) all about the randomness of the sightings based upon getting myself into a position of potential success. Brewing beer is the same thing. Each require a certain mimimum of "equipment" too...enter the ingenuity of invention.

As anyone knows who ever began a new hobby, there are plenty of businesses out there more than willing to provide you with the tools and doo-dads that are "must-haves" related to that activity. This can be a bit problematic in terms of financing (and some times in the spousal-appeasing explanations of family funding spent aquiring said doo-dads) Here exists a perfect opportunity to "create" more thrifty solutions. Make your own "digi-scope" from a cheap digital camera, a segment of cardboard toilet tissue roll, and an inexpensive spotting scope...(thank you Laura Erickson) or making your own wort chiller from a roll of copper tubing bought at Lowes saving over fifty dollars from the "store-bought" model. This appeals to modern man (or some women) at the basic "I can do that" level and equally demonstrates just how clever you may be to your peers. Totally a "win-win" setting. After all, who doesn't like talking about a found (or created) bargain?

HERE'S more detail on my latest brewing experience if you care to check it out. I wish to thank my new friends at Northern Brewer for their concise basic instructions and to point out the images attached to the document are mine, added to enhance and assist the novice brewing enthusiast.

So folks, this upcoming holiday season, appeal to your crafty, thrifty, adventurous, hobbyist nature and try something unexpected, a true challenge, and good for the soul: Brew beer or start birding. These hobbies (and others like them) will last a lifetime and provide amazing fodder for story upon story told both on the feather trail, or around the campfire holding a cold frosty bottle of pure pride.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Long Shadows of Autumn

When the weather turns colder and the shadows grow longer; it's your truest most reliable "friends" that get you through the long winter ahead.

Sure it's nice to see the fair-weather migrants that fly in and out of our lives when the time is right for them. Their flashy-splashy colors and entertaining antics provide a great distraction from the mundane, but their appearance is only fleeting and un-enduring. Give me an old-fashioned, long-term, (you know what you're getting) "usual" visitor any day. These are the steadfast survivors that stick with you when the going is toughest and when the weather turns foulest; they are always there for you.

In my area of the great Midwest, these true "friends" include; the Mourning dove, House Finch, Northern cardinal, Black-capped chickadee, White-breasted nuthatch, Downy woodpecker, Dark-eyed junco and the (boo...hiss) dreaded House Sparrow. These faithful seed eating, wintertime squatters are the ones to provide the necessary drama that will have to suffice until the days get longer again, and the sun decides to make more than a fleeting daily appearance. They make it "fun" to scoop the seeds and put out the suet each time I do it...they are very appreciative too.

There's a great debate that always springs up each winter about feeding Vs. not. Some folks believe that if you provide feed that it somehow upsets the internal natural balance of birds, causing them to do crazy and "un-natural" things with their eating habits. Maybe they don't fly south to a warmer clime, or perhaps they take extra long showers, watch too much TV, or have unprotected sex. That, my faithful readers is all B.S. What feeding the birds into the fall and (heaven forbid) all winter long does is the following: provides the "feed-er" with great natural theatre, and those lucky birds who eat things (and that's all of them folks) with easy, tasty, and nutritious food. So, it's a "good" thing to do...keep it up!

So, I went again to my new favorite area of the BIG City of Milwaukee; Havenwoods. Things are changing there, just like the season. I saw my first actual coyote on one of the zillion paths that crisscross the State forest land. That was extremely cool. I missed the photo op while I was staring, so you'll just have to believe me. The grasses are brown and the trees mostly leafless, but there are plenty of interesting things left to discover if you pay attention. The ponds are low, but the muskrats are still happy enough. The Whitetail deer are also running the grounds with a grin knowing that they cannot be hunted on the park lands. Trees that contain dangling seeds and berries are attracting plenty of fall and winter avian friends which are planning to stay a while. Milk weed, thistle and Compass plants offer a variety of tasty tidbits for those birds that are just fine with the extended period of white that is yet to cover the landscape. The views from the rolling hills are more unobstructed than they'll ever appear in the summer, offering another perspective of the vastness of the Havenwoods area. In other words, plan to re-visit those areas you frequent in the "nicer" weather, to take full advantage of the change of seasons.

So, my "friendly" advice is to take time to a stroll outdoors this fall and visit with some of your area's true "friends." Plus, make sure you put out an extra scoop of your seeds as a welcome (back) gift...they'll thank you for it by "being there" for you.