Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Algae attack

The Chicago Tribune reported today that algae has bloomed out of control on the bottom of Lake Michigan in the past three years, largely due to exotic zebra and quagga mussels. It's sad to hear that the whole native food chain is being altered and that the lake bottom is no longer all boulders and gravel but instead cloaked in algae.

Park place

Trees can be a camper's worst nightmare. A storm blew through Northwestern Illinois recently and killed a child sleeping in a tent at a private campground. Scary stuff.

And one state park is the first in Michigan with green restrooms. The shower building at Grand Haven State Park was replaced in an eco-friendly fashion.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Continental drift

A few of you may have noticed the debate raging here about the direction of this blog. I have come to a solution. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the patternless area.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tower view

I took a few pictures in an industrial area on the way from work this past week. There are a couple more on flickr.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fashionable male

A not anywhere near live blog of the replay of the 17th Stage of the Tour de France. Today's stage is up legendary L'Alpe d'Huez. The blog includes bonus coverage of tonight's episode of "Project Runway."

7:54 p.m. -- My viewing begins with a pleasant surprise. Commentator Phil Liggett is interviewing Garmin-Chipotle's team director. I hadn't heard Liggett or Paul Sherwen much in primetime this year.

7:55 -- Now Craig Hummer takes over the announcing duties. He is Mario Mendoza to Liggett's Babe Ruth.

7:56 -- Commentator Bob Roll makes a simile involving a snow leopard.

8:00 -- A quick check of Runway, which is recapping last week's episode and Jerry's hideous outfit.

8:07 -- The model elimination process on Runway seems arbitrary and unfair.

8:10 -- Keith looks a bit like the lead singer of Suicidal Tendencies.

8:11 -- Back to the Tour, an interview with Christian Vande Velde who hails from suburban Chicago. He was a General Classification contender until yesterday. He keeps a great diary that sometimes appears in the Tribune, but I can't seem to locate it online.

8:14 -- Helicopter shots show the incredible vistas--lakes, waterfalls, peaks--of the Alps.

8:18 -- Back to Runway, where Stella explains her project while aiming to erase memories of last week's garbage bags.

8:21 -- Tim Gunn uses the phrase "hot mess" in a nod to last season's champ, Christian Siriano.

8:28 -- At the Tour, Peter Velits is alone leading the stage with two groups of chasers following. The Peloton is 1 minute, 45 seconds behind. The GC contenders are in Chase 2.

8:30 -- I read a profile of Tour leader Frank Schleck a couple years ago. He seems like a good guy and he's from Luxembourg.

8:36 -- Andy Schleck, Frank's younger brother, was second in this year's Giro d'Italia and is having a great Tour. Veteran rider Stuart O'Grady says Andy will be an all-time great.

8:40 -- Back on Runway, Leanne takes her creepiness to a whole 'nother level when guest judge Natalie Portman is introduced.

8:46 -- Nina Garcia provides this blast to Wesley: "Shiny, tight and short is the quickest way to look cheap." And I just realized that Wesley has been wearing white shorts this whole time.

8:52 -- In France, Jerome Pineau has joined Velits on the lead, and they approach the base of L'Alpe. The first group of chasers is approaching.

8:54 -- 13.8 kilometers to the summit of the famed mountain.

8:55 -- Velits has cracked.

8:56 -- GC contender Carlos Sastre attacks with Denis Menchov right behind.

8:57 -- In New York, Suede has won the challenge.

8:58 -- Wesley is eliminated and Leanne somehow goes on to sew another day.

8:59 -- In the Alps, Menchov is in difficulty with 12.2 kilometers to go.

9:02 -- I love the chalk messages on the Tour's roads. The group just rolled over 'ANDY' and 'FRANK.'

9:08 -- Bernhard Kohl, who is in second in the Tour and leading King of the Mountains, is fading. Only to quickly bounce back.

9:10 -- Sastre is 48 seconds ahead of the yellow jersey group.

9:16 -- Sastre is the "virtual" leader of the Tour right now, says Roll.

9:20 -- If I were a spectator at the Tour, I don't think I'd run beside the riders and pour water on them. But that's just me.

9:29 -- Andy Schleck and Vladimir Efimkin attack. Sastre has extended his lead to 2 minutes, 5 seconds.

9:38 -- Phil Liggett takes over the call with about a mile to go. And Sammy Sanchez, the Basque rider, is on the attack.

9:42 -- Sastre captures the stage and the yellow jersey.

9:44 -- The GC contenders finish 2:14 behind. The Tour will be decided during the Stage 19 individual time trial, and Australia's Cadel Evans (1:34 back) appears to be the favorite.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Owlet watch

Thank you to the correspondents for this find. Screech owls are nesting in New York's Central Park. The New York Times chronicles nighttime nature outings in the park. Sounds like fun.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Martin frenzy

A plague of purple martins is afflicting Richmond, Va. The big swallows are at times beloved and hated in the old capital of the Confederacy. Now, the city is planning a festival to celebrate them.

What strikes me about this is that, to me, this isn't typical purple martin habitat. Usually they reside near golf courses, farms, airports or other open spaces--this is quite an urban area. Open enough, though, that a red-tailed hawk was present to feast on the martins, according to the story.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dope tour

I haven't quite devoted as much time as I would like to watching this year's Tour de France. And sometimes I question why I even bother with this dopefest. Today, a two-time stage winner in this year's Tour, Ricardo Ricco, was disqualified along with the Saunier Duval team because Ricco tested positive for the blood enhancer EPO. Paul Sherwen makes nice use of the word "prat" to describe Ricco.

Oh, and I posted the three-point stance photo.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Three-point stance

In case you woke up this morning thinking 'does Williams County, Ohio, have red squirrels?' the answer is that it does. Williams County, the most northwestern of all 88 counties in Ohio, has red squirrels and fox squirrels. These were among the many discoveries on our recent trip east to Ohio and Indiana. Our trip list totaled 55+ species with the last species tallied when a black-crowned night-heron flew over the Indiana Toll Road yesterday evening near Gary. There are a few photos now posted on the driftless area Flickr site (I spared you the photo of me in a three-point stance over Indiana, Ohio and Michigan).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Great lake

Great story in the Plain Dealer today by D'Arcy Egan. It highlights the reasons why Lake Erie is the most important Great Lake.

Lake Superior has 50 percent of the water mass of the Great Lakes and 2 percent of the fish. Lake Erie has 2 percent of the water mass and 50 percent of the fish.

Full disclosure: the expert quoted in this story is the uncle of one of my best friends.

Hills sadness

There's a sadness in seeing a towering hickory on the edge of a freshly graded development. Such sights are common here on the edge of the Allegheny Plateau. Northeast Ohio once was mostly upland forest--beech, hickory, maple, oak, hemlock. The few areas that weren't cleared for farming in the first part of the 19th century are being claimed by development in many areas. Now the shagbarks are exposed. Skinny, swaying trees, most without any branches at all until two or three stories up.

Elsewhere in Willoughby Hills, a sighting of a northern mockingbird. The harbinger of global warming was seen at Airport Greens Golf Course. Also, the plague of eastern kingbirds this summer continues. Several seen at the golf course.

Friday, July 11, 2008

State straddle

The past few days have been a tale of Northeasts--northeastern Illinois, northeastern Indiana and northeastern Ohio. We departed Wednesday from Chicago and arrived at Pokagon State Park, in Indiana, later that night. The campground has a lot of potential--wooded sites, nice online reservation system--but was a bit disappointing. As the problem has been in the past, raccoons and other varmints were lurking in the woods around the sites. They were ready to pounce at the slightest sign of humans. In our case, no food out at all and yet they were creeping up on us.

Also, maybe I haven't camped in the lower Midwest in midsummer for a while, but there were a ton of bugs around. A plague of daddy longlegs descended on our tent, and the mosquitoes were fierce in the morning. Our tent was set up on a hardpan dirt surface that made sleeping incredibly uncomfortable. Anyway, we'll probably stay in the nearby Potawatomi Lodge next time around.

It was a perfect summer morning amid the glacial lakes, marshes and woodlands of the region. We meandered a bit by car and found the point where Indiana, Michigan and Ohio come together. Representative really of nothing, though there was a stone marker signifying the convergence of the boundaries. It took a three-point stance to straddle all of them at once.

All told--40 plus bird species already and should be more to follow.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Good morning

The Tour de France started today, and I'm here with a somewhat live blog of the action...

7:30 a.m. - Versus begins the telecast with a dramatic narrator describing the geological forces that shaped the Alps.

7:34 - Ah, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll make their first appearance.

7:36 - A lengthy conversation about doping. The past two Tours have been ravaged by drugs. Team Astana, including new signee and 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador, already has been banned this year for past transgressions.

7:44 - Top sprinter Tom Boonen has been barred from the tour for using a "social" drug: cocaine.

7:47 - Predictions for Stage 1. Sherwen: Oscar Freire. Liggett: Thor Hushovd. Roll: Fabian Cancellara. Craig Hummer (I miss Al Trautwig): Riccardo Ricco(?).

7:50 - The last time the race ended in Plumelec, in 1997, the winner was Erik Zabel. Zabel is in the Peloton today, too.

7:56 - There are two American teams in the Tour for the first time: Garmin-Chipotle and Team Columbia.

8:00 - We join the stage in progress and there's been a crash near a feeding station. A Cofidis rider went down in the Peloton. He has to abandon just 55 miles into the Tour.

8:02 - T-Mobile no longer is fielding a team in the Tour. This is the team, once known as Team Telekom, that had given us the likes of Jan Ullrich and Andreas Kloeden. They were like the Cobra Kai of cycling. They'll be missed.

8:08 - There's an early breakaway. I've never neard of these guys other than Thomas Voeckler. They have a 4 minute, 11 second advantage.

8:12 - Liquigas again is fielding a team. I will look up what Liquigas does before the end of the stage.

8:23 - The crashed rider is diagnosed with a broken wrist. Cyclists break wrists and collarbones like we get paper cuts.

8:33 - There's a guy playing bagpipes next to the road.

8:34 - A check of Wimbledon -- Serena Williams leads Venus Williams by a break, first set. NBC doesn't bother with last names in its score box.

8:50 - Sprinter Alessandro Petacchi is barred this year for too much nasal spray, says Liggett. Cycling is bizarre.

8:54 - Another crash and a Liggett-ism. Frank Schleck, a "pre-race fancied rider," is part of the crash.

8:59 - Back to NBC, where Venus has now won a break to tie the set.

9:05 - Venus wins the first set, 7-5.

9:10 - The Peloton has cut the lead to 2:29 behind the eight-rider breakaway. Twenty-five miles to go.

9:17 - Peloton is 1:28 back as a Cofidis rider goes on the attack. And now another attack. The group accelerates and decelerates. Sherwen says this will only help the Peloton catch them.

9:21 - Lilian Jegou and David de la Fuente do break away and there are six chasers 49 seconds behind them. About 20 miles to go.

9:27 - Sherwen says the chasers are only "prolonging the agony" now and the Peloton catching them is inevitable.

9:35 - Jegou and De la Fuente trade slipstreams. I love cycling etiquette. And now they chat a bit. Sherwen says most riders speak French.

9:36 - A crash in the Peloton. And one rider comes up with his rear wheel in hand. The Pelton continues its merciless push forward.

9:44 - The Peloton is only one minute behind the leaders. Ten miles to go. The leaders are trying to stay away and at least wear the yellow jersey for a day.

9:45 - A few hundred miles north, in England, Serena and Venus both hold serve, 3-3, second set.

9:51 - Peloton just 18 seconds behind the lead duo. Ten kilometers to go.

9:56 - Another crash, this time on a narrow climb. Another wrist injury perhaps.

10:00 - The Peloton churning forward now with three kilometers to go. Team Columbia at the front.

10:02 - There's a narrow stone bridge that everyone is worried about. Peloton makes it across intact.

10:02 - Erik Zabel, 1997 stage winner here, is near the front!

10:03 - And a rider attacks. Team Gerolsteiner reels him in and sends its own rider out.

10:04 - Now the attacks are coming from everywhere.

10:05 - And "fancied rider" Alejandro Valverde has some burst in his legs -- and takes the stage.

10:07 - Back to NBC, and Venus has won her fifth title at Wimbledon.

FYI, Liquigas is a gas product distributor in Italy.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Cold July

There's no doubt I am partial to cooler weather--especially when it is supposed to be much warmer. That's why I was so pleased with our trip to the Chicago fireworks display last night. We took to our bikes and made the five-mile or so journey to the downtown area. We decided to take the less-traveled back side of Navy Pier to its eastern terminus. The result was a lightly crowded area of a hardy folk--it had to be less than 60 degrees and there was a consistent wind whipping in from the northeast (traversing hundreds of miles of icy Lake Michigan water).

An article in the Tribune today bemoans the cold temperatures beach-goers will encounter this Independence Day. I have gone swimming in the lake this year, and it takes some elan to get into this water. I first stepped in and nearly sprinted out. Then I saw a group of four-year-olds splashing around and figured if they could do it, I could. Well worth it when air temparatures are hot, but not this weekend.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Jarring news

A study published in the journal Science details avian evolution and may change the way birds are classified. The study, conducted by the Field Museum here in Chicago, shows that nightjars and hummingbirds have a lot in common and grebes and loons--often thought to be related--don't have much in common. Here is a paragraph from an online report:

"Similarly, distinctive lifestyles (such as nocturnal, raptorial and pelagic, i.e., living on the ocean or open seas) evolved several times. For example, contrary to conventional thinking, colorful, daytime hummingbirds evolved from drab nocturnal nightjars; falcons are not closely related to hawks and eagles; and tropicbirds (white, swift-flying ocean birds) are not closely related to pelicans and other waterbirds."