Dec 31, 2008


Black Skimmer's were sighted today at Fort Clinch State Park.  These were one of my top targets because I have not seen Skimmer's yet.  These guys were pretty cooperative and even posed for a few pictures.

Northeast Florida is a bird paradise, but it looks like the recession and housing crisis has gutted the place.  We drove though the town of Fernandian Beach, FL this afternoon after bagging lots 'o birds and found literally every other house to be either for sale or for rent.

More photos on the Flickr site - link on the left

I Bet My New Year's Eve was Weirder Than Yours...

We had the opportunity to observe New Year's Eve (at least that portion between 9:00 and 10:00 PM) in the bar at the beautiful Holiday Inn in St. Augustine, FL.  We are down here on a much-needed vacation and have had some awesome bird-watching while we were here, but we also had the unusual problem of having New Year's Eve happen while we are camping out at a Holiday Inn.

We are not big New Year's Eve party people in the first place. Usually I heat up some pizza rolls and we drink a cheap bottle of champagne (well... it's Brut, actually - as we all know, it's only "Champagne" if it's really from France). However, now that we are stuck in a motel in a tourist town on New Year's Eve, we had to do something or else our only option would be watching South Park on cable.

Fortunately for us, we learned from the kid at the bar that Kenyon Dye and his On-line Piano Bar would be performing at the very Holiday Inn we are staying at!!  We also learned that immediately after this event, the sad hotel bar would be gutted and the room turned into a banquet hall. The kid tending bar was philosophical about it, but you could tell he was sorry to see the place demolished. It was a poignant Last Night at the Lobster moment for all of  us when we heard this.

At any rate, we stopped by after the St. Augustine New Year's Eve fireworks (shot off at 8:30 over the ocean and very nice).  The scene at the Holiday Inn was straight out of Saturday Night Live - about 30 baby-boomers hanging around a piano stage, singing along and playing various percussion instruments while some guy sang "Crocodile Rock" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?".  To add to all this, the whole thing is broadcast on the web, with an "IM" window, so people can request songs, chat with others watching the virtual concert and just generally take in the scene from wherever they happen to be.

We only lasted for one glass of wine - Molly had to beat it out of there because it was creeping her out too much.  I went back to snap this photo at the top of this post so you, too, could experience a little of the ambiance at the Holiday Inn on New Year's Eve.

That's it. Glad to see 2008 go. Hopefully 2009 will be better!!!!

Dec 28, 2008

Harlequin Duck at Prescott, WI

We ventured to Prescott, WI this morning to see if we could find the Harlequin Duck that has been reported on the MOU site in the past several days to weeks.

It was cold but sunny and beautiful, and we managed to find the duck - that almost never happens to me, so I was a bit dumbstruck that it was actually there.  We also collected several Tundra swans, a boatload of Common Goldeneye and Canada geese, a couple of Canvasbacks and one cold and lonely Coot. I did not get a picture of the duck, but Molly was able to get this one of me because I was moving a lot slower than the duck was.

Sensing that the bird gods were smiling on me today, I talked The Boss into taking a lap around the airport on our return trip to see if we could find that damn Snowy owl, but alas, I was skunked again on that one.

Dec 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

We made it back from our annual Christmas visit to The Ancestral Homeland late this afternoon. We had a very nice visit with all of my side of the family, and we faired well enough on the road despite several large winter storms that moved through southern Wisconsin while we were traveling.

Molly was good enough to get me a "Flip" - this is a very cool little digital video camera that can record up to an hour of video and upload it to a blog, Flickr site, or a computer. I joked that I will probably end up capturing live action images of a bike crash while I am screwing around with this on a ride (I note that in every jest there is a grain of truth). We also pulled down some good Wisconsin swag from my brother, a self-heating coffee mug and some home-made slippers from my sisters, and from my parent's, an awesome caramel apple from a local candy shop (these are amazing).

The best part is that the fun is not over - I have to duck into the office for a little on Saturday, then I have another week off to regroup. Looking forward to that!

I hope you all had a happy and safe holiday. Now, go look for owls or ride you bike if it's nice out!!

Dec 22, 2008

So Stupid it's Brilliant

I was doing a little Christmas shopping this afternoon and stopped in at a gift shop in South Minneapolis to browse the fares.  On the shelf was something so stupid, it was brilliant!  

It was a bag of rounded river rocks in a range of sizes.  The rocks were in a mesh bag that was tied shut with some environmentally friendly and organically wholesome twine, and attached to the twine was a non-glossy, new-agey cardboard strip that urged me to "Find Balance". On the label is a picture of the rocks stacked up in a little monument.

Brilliant!! This person went out to Lake Michigan, scored some free rocks, and is now bagging and selling them to the new age/wellness crowd for more money than I thought they could get away with, and it's because of the branding.  They took the basic Pet Rock concept (sell something worthless by finding an angle) and one-upped it.  They tapped the wellness movement, hit the baby boomers, fit in to the new age group and tapped the green movement all in one act of really ballsy branding and marketing.  It worked on me - I bought a rock set today just to reward the blatant capitalism behind this product (probably not what the shop intended, but as the customer I reserve the right to my motivation).  

When I lived in Connecticut, I would come across very impressive piles of precariously piled rocks out in the middle of the woods.  This was clearly one of my neighbor's hobbies, but I never figured out who was doing it. I did an on-line search just now and came across a lot of information on stacking rocks. Apparently this is a big deal to some people, so we'll see if this transforms my life or if these end up in potted plants around the house by this time next year.

That's it. Keep your balance!

Dec 21, 2008

Practice Estimating Flock Sizes

With temps well below zero and a biting wind, I opted to do some birding from the comfort of the Mighty Tundra this morning before attempting some Christmas shopping.  A Snowy owl has again been sited at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, so I prowled Cargo Road (with a few other bird nerds) to see if I could find it.  Snowy owls are seen fairly consistently at the airport during winter.  

Many are surprised about owls at the airport, but in fact, a lot of my best bird watching has been at fairly urban/disturbed sites rather than in what your would think of as "natural" settings.  Favorite spots include a sewage treatment plant near Shakopee for Barrow's goldeneye and other waterfowl (I also saw a Northern shrike and Long-eared owl there once as well), the grain elevators on Hiawatha Ave. for an occasional Prairie falcon, and the metal recycling place north of the Wakota Bridge for migrant waterfowl. Before the airport expansion, the Richfield community gardens that were located at the eastern end of 66th Street were great for Sparrows, and a Short-eared owl was seen there as well.  Eastern screech owls are present in the oaks along West River Parkway south of Lake Street.

No luck today on my Snowy owl quest, although the owl was relocated later this afternoon sitting out in the fields near one of the runways, so it's out there.

The Iowa Ornithologist's Union (IOU) has a link on their site to help practice estimating the number of birds in a flock.  This is surprisingly difficult, but with a little practice I was able to get my failure rate to around +/- 10% on most tries (with some spectacular over- or under-estimates thrown in).  Here is the link if you care to give it a try.

That's it - stay warm and pay attention, owls are everywhere this winter, it seems.

Dec 20, 2008

Christmas Bird Count 2008

Once again, I was part of the Christmas Bird Count this year. A friend and I have done this for years now. Our current area is in southern Bloomington (bounded by I-35W and France Ave. from east to west and by Old Shakopee Road to the Minnesota River north to south).

We had a very snowy day for counting birds, but did alright despite the poor conditions. The only truly birdy area in our count zone is Nine-Mile Creek park. This year we had no open water and already plenty of snow on the ground. Surprisingly, every year we pound out a bunch of Robins in Nine-Mile Creek park. We also got the usual assortment of Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied woodpeckers, a bag full of chickadees, etc. Last year we got a Barred owl and we were very pleased to find him (or perhaps, her) again this year as well.

After a couple of hours of work, we swung down to Black Dog Lake to try and find some good gulls. Hands down, the birding at Black Dog was the best of the day - we were rewarded with nice views of a Rough-legged hawk, a Glaucus gull (that's the first time I have been confident in my I.D. of one of these guys), a probable Thayer's gull, a Pelican, and a bunch of assorted Mergansers. Black Dog is not in our CBC area, so we can't truly count these, but we'll make these "good birds" get in to the data in case they got missed by the group that had Black Dog Lake (possible, but not likely that they would be missed).

EDIT - Scott sent me our tally for the day, so here it is:

2008 Christmas Bird Count Tally

Hairy Woodpecker – 5

Downy Woodpecker – 14

Chickadee – 58

American Robin – 42

Mallard – 47

Blue Jay – 3

American Goldfinch – 28

Red-tailed Hawk – 2

American Crow – 10

Starling – 5

White breasted Nuthatch – 14

Brown creeper – 1

Northern Cardinal – 17

American Tree Sparrow – 23

Barred owl – 1

Dark-eyed junco – 3

Along Black Dog Road

Glaucous Gull – 1

Thayer’s Gull – 1

American White Pelican – 1

Hooded Mergansers – 11

Dec 19, 2008

Declining Demand for Oil

Bloomberg ran an article today on the steepening decline in demand for oil and how it is driving the price per barrel down despite OPEC's attempts to cut production and control prices. This week's EIA Petroleum Status Report states that weekly refinery inputs (e.g. crude oil) averaged about 14.6 MM bbl/day (which is down about 415,000 bbl/day from last week for those keeping close score).

In the grand scheme of things, 415,000 bbl's just is not that much oil, so I fail to see how this decrease could possible result in the plummeting price of oil. Something is up here and I am not sure what it is.

For the record, my preference is to have oil relatively high because in my opinion, that will enable alternatives to be more cost competitive while not crippling the economy. I would like to see us move to a more diversified energy base and decrease fossil fuel consumption, but it's nonsense to think that solar cells on roofs and compact fluorescent bulbs can get us there. This is a pretty fundamental change in our economy and our energy infrastructure, and it's going to have to go slow to not traumatize us.

More Whining about Marq2

It snowed a little bit early this morning so I was able to take a (poor) picture with my cell phone to demonstrate what effective use Metro Transit is making of their second south-bound lane on Marquette Ave.  

At least I see one bike rode through there.  I say we take it back if they are not going to use this.

Dec 17, 2008

MARQ2: Meh.

"MARQ2" Project is now just about complete between 7th and 8th Street. For those not as close to this project, here's the background. This project preserves the two north-bound car lanes on Marquette Ave. and removes one south-bound, counterflow bike lane that was sandwiched between the north-bound lanes and a single south-bound bus lane to replace it with two south-bound bus lanes. While I knew I would miss the south-bound lane, I did not bank on the impact of the newly opened hotel to screw this up further for bicyclists.

The Foshay Tower has been converted into the swank "W" hotel (rooms are $400 per night if you are interested). The valet parking/customer drop off area in front of the hotel essentially necks Marquette down to one lane, so to get north bikers have to dodge doors and avoid getting a sideview mirror in the back of the head for that block.

They had some people taking comments on the project in the skyway on Monday and I told them that this was much less safe for bicycles than the previous arrangement. Although they will be letting bikes ride up Nicollet Ave. now, the entrance to the IDS Center is (still) on Marquette Ave., and the only way to get to that is on the busy/no bike lane 8th Ave. or to ride/walk the sidewalk (unsafe or inconvenient, take your pick). The project reps pointed out that bikes can ride in the bus lanes during non-peak hours, but that does not help commuters. She finally admitted that the project did not really support cyclists, but I doubt they will be able to do much about this.

If you click the image in this post, you can see how few streets in downtown are set up for bikes and how few connections to good streets there really are (google "complete streets" for more info). I don't really mind riding in traffic, but it really puts a lot of my co-workers off.

If Minneapolis really wants to be seen as bike-friendly, they need to look hard at this issue and make a few more connections in their central business district.

My Christmas Execution Plan

It is one week or so before Christmas and I am reflecting on the holiday season...

The reality of my life right now is that the Christmas season generally coincides with a lot of decidedly non-Christmasy activities, including:
  • Helping to develop next year's operating budget;
  • Guiding the Compensation Committee through the minefield of raises, promotions and bonuses for a lot of people;
  • Developing annual scopes of work, cost estimates and contract renewals for key clients;
  • Drafting and overseeing fee schedule notification letters;
  • Trying to complete project deliverables by year-end;
  • Completing performance reviews and conducting year-end discussions with employees;
  • Leading our strategic planning meetings, and, last but not least;
  • Trying to think about Christmas and get "in the spirit".
It's not all cubes and offices - there is always a huge, beautifully decorated tree and school kids playing holiday concerts in the Crystal Court during the lunch hour. We get a ton of cards and thank-you gifts from clients and companies the work for us at this time of year, and generally the project work slows down a little as well.  But still, the day-to-day reality of this time of year can really get in the way if you are trying to enjoy the season.

This year I am going to do what any self-respecting, busy executive would do - I am going to be super-efficient!  I am going to fit my family visits, holiday reflections and some much anticipated time off into a glorious two week X-mas orgy. I plan to focus on that (almost) exclusively (the "be here now" principal) and  let the office run itself for awhile.  My theory is that if I can focus more fully on just relaxing, slowing down and enjoying things, that might be more rewarding than bleeding out the Christmas cheer a little at a time. 

Who knows, I may very well turn into Scrooge on Christmas morning - we'll have to wait and see about that.

Dec 14, 2008

Guide to Winter Tires

I came across a site tonight that provides a lot of information on various brands and models of studded tires. I don't generally support the mail order shops but consider this a good reference for those interested in studded tires, so I am posting it. I am confident that your local bike shop can order most - if not all - of the tires listed in this article if you see one that looks good.  

Think globally, shop locally.

Dec 13, 2008

Creek Assault: Fail

C'est la vie...

The ride up Minnehaha Creek was a bit of a failure.  It turns out that 3 - 4 inches of loose snow are pretty tough to ride through in spite of the wide Endomorph tires on the Pugsley.  Even with my weight over the rear wheel a lot, I had trouble getting any real traction and would end up eventually augering the front wheel into a death turn and have to put a foot down.  

So much for that little adventure. Maybe a little later, when the snow is packed down more...

Had a nice spin down the Parkway, however, enjoying our 30 degree warmth but because I lowered the saddle a bit and rode the tires pretty soft for this outing the bike felt pretty weird and bouncy.   

Dec 11, 2008

Sinead O'Connor The Last Day Of our Acquaintance Live

Sinead O'Connor was (and probably still is) scary powerful. This is was recorded live in Holland in 1995 and the reverberations can still be felt by sensitive seismic equipment in North America.

Amazing performance. Oh-ho-ho.

Do Urban Bike Paths Increase Crime?

Somebody hit this blog today searching for information on the greenway crime alert (it amazes how fast stuff gets picked up by Google after it's posted). That search led me to a far more interesting article than my post from yesterday.

This article was dredged up by that greenway crime search. It dates back to 2000 and examines the experiences of Eugene, OR as they developed a bike trail along the Williamette River. I have heard of spats in the Midwest over Rails-to-Trails initiatives where local residents are certain that the trail will provide a superhighway for murders and kidnappers before, and it looks like Eugene went through the same public discourse. What's interesting about this article is that it is very thoughtful and examines how crime statistics work (factoring population to get to incidents per "resident" and the problems that bike trails present with that approach). It also touches on what makes for a safer trail, so that seems relevant these days.

You need to brace yourself - the article is 7 pages long, but it's a good read if you are interested in this topic.


Dec 10, 2008

Greenway Crime Alert

This is all over the MPLS cycle blogs and MBL, but I am going to post this, too,  in case anyone missed this.  I guess I am glad the city is now paying attention, but telling us to stay of the Greenway after dark seems like surrendering the trail system to the thugs. Why don't we just move out of to Lakeville while we are at it?  

*CRIME ALERT: Recent robbery/assaults on the Midtown Greenway.*
*Attention Residents*
*Dec. 09, 2008*

*Robbery/Assaults *
*'Midtown Greenway - Hiawatha LRT Trail'*

Recently we've had series of robbery/assaults on the Midtown Greenway. They've occurred in both the 3rd and 5th Precincts at different locations along the trail. Typically the victim is surrounded and pushed off their bicycle. The attackers are taking wallets, backpacks and purses.  Many of the assaults have occurred after dark. Some have occurred during daylight hours. So far the attackers are not stealing the victim's bicycles.

The suspects have been described by their victims as groups of 2 or 3 younger males.  At this time we do not have more specific descriptions of the suspects.  It appears that more than one group of suspects may be committing these crimes.
The Minneapolis Police Department is investigating these crimes.  Police are doing extra patrol on the Greenway. The Police Dept. met with the Midtown Greenway Coalition to discuss some prevention strategies.  

*What You Can Do?*
- If you can, avoid riding or walking the Greenway after dark.
 - Whenever possible ride/walk with others, not alone. You are much safer with a group than you are alone.
 - There are "Bluelight" phones at intervals on the Greenway that will connect you directly to 911. Carry a cell phone as well. If you aren't close to a phone, you can call 911 if you need help
-Pay attention to your surroundings. If you see people ahead of you, that make you nervous or uncomfortable, exit the Greenway at the nearest ramp.
 -If you should be assaulted, try to stay calm. Give the attackers what they want. The more you resist, the more likely it is that you will be injured.
- Be sure to wear a bike helmet while riding. If will reduce you chances of injury considerably.
- When you call 911 give the operator your location. Due to recent changes in our police reporting system, the Greenway is now listed as a street (i.e. Midtown Greenway W. (Nicollet Ave. westward) and Midtown Greenway E. (East of Nicollet to the river). When you riding or walking during daylight hours take some time to familiarize yourself with the addresses of the cross streets over the trail. It will help ensure a quicker police response.

If you have questions please contact Crime Prevention Specialist Don Greeley at the 3rd Precinct - 673-3482  or
Carla Nielson, Crime Prevention Specialist 
Minneapolis Police Department, Franklin Safety Center 
(612) 871-8090

*"To Protect With Courage"**" 
*To Serve With Compassion*"*

Dec 9, 2008

Go West, Young Man

On Saturday, I plan to ride my Pug up Minnehaha Creek for a stretch.  I'll bring a camera and take some pictures, but if anyone wants to come along, they are welcome.  I talked to a knowledgeable source about this idea recently and he advised large tires, cautioned that the recent snowfall would render most studded tires ineffective, and briefly described "falling on his ass" the one time he tried this. So all that kind of... intrigued me.  Plus, this fits into my plan to try and spend more time on the bike this winter in a sort of weird way.

We'll see how it goes, but here's the basic plan:

Minnehaha Creek Route from Bloomington Ave. to France Ave.

Dec 8, 2008

Winter Biking - the Mental Aspect

Winter pulled into the Minne-no-place metro area today.  Molly was visiting her parents in Southern MN and I was worried all day about her driving around in this mess, and I was treated to the first snow-induced grid-lock mess that downtown Minneapolis becomes on days like these.

As the season turns, I have began to think a little more seriously about riding a bike in winter. I am, admittedly, a pretty fair weather rider. I think that is partly because I hardly have time to ride my bike when it's sunny and beautiful out, and secondly because I don't like to ride in the dark very much.  So, in winter, it's easy to make excuses for why I drove instead of rode.

But, that said, I have been thinking about trying to get on the bike a little more this winter.  To that end, I have upgraded my gear a bit (bought a better light, invested in another rear flasher, upgraded to a cheap snow board helmet, etc.). I also mounted my widest tires on the Cross Check and have it aimed out in the garage to make it easy to get out the door.

I have also been prowling some websites and came across some good links that are worth sharing.  I am convinced that hands-down, the best site for information on winter biking is  There is a ton of useful information on this site; they have a guide on clothing (there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing), another series of pages is devoted to bike handling, and an interesting survey of 20 Questions that winter bikers have completed and has posted for all to see.

They also have an interesting survey (with NO results yet) on mechanical failures due to winter conditions.  I would suspect that mechanical failures would increase in cold weather (we see this with pipeline construction regularly), but so far the jury is out on whether this impacts bicycles.

Finally, the relatively few times I have gotten out in winter, I have been frustrated that I seem to crawl along. even has a page on that. is not the only site - search "winter bicycling" and you will get a ton of hits and most of them have useful information (use a lot of lights, dress in layers,  the first mile is the hardest, etc., etc.).

What I don't see on the site (or other sites) is how to get the motivation - how to actually get out the door and ride your bike when it's cold and nasty out.  I have concluded that gear is easy if you can afford it, but the mental aspect is more difficult - and you can't buy that.

At any rate, I pledge to try.  I aim to ride more this winter, and hopefully commute in to work as well.  I plan to take this step-wise, however.  Start small, have a victory or two, and then take it from there.  We'll see.

Stay warm and dry!!

Dec 3, 2008

Who Are All These Bloggers?

Slate.Com ran an article back in July that riffed on a Pew study about bloggers. The Pew survey referenced in the article seems to be only semi-scientific but the results seem spot-on to me.  Here is an excerpt:

"About half [of the bloggers] are under the age of 30. About half use a pseudonym. About half say creative self-expression or documenting personal experiences is a major reason for blogging. About half think their audience is folks they already know. Half say changing people's minds is not a major reason behind their blog, and about half had never published before starting their blog."

Of course, since Pew slices the world into halves, EVERYONE fits into the profile (great way to be correct, when you think about it).  

I know a handful of bloggers. Not a big sample, but I know these people personally, so I will be more bold than the tepid Pew position.  While you can never really know what someone is thinking, I suspect that most of them are not out to change public opinion (in fact, it seems to me like most of them could care less about public opinion).  Furthermore, I suspect that most post as a creative outlet first and to share and store useful information secondly. Most know (more or less) who their readers are.  Most also post under pseudonyms, and are over 30 years old. 

I think the most important tidbit from this article is that the blog super-stars do not fit the typical blogger mold. For the most part, the Big Deal bloggers are published people with an agenda. They fancy themselves to be opinion leaders and are using the internet to try and advance that vision. 

I would hazard a guess that most blogger (the "silent majority") do not fit that model at all.  So, when you see references in the media to bloggers, do not put us all in the same bucket, because I suspect we don't all fit the media's notion.