West Chest Coffee Blog

Untitled 1989 17X46 cm. Oil on wood.

Untitled 1989 17X46 cm. Oil on wood.

The West Chester Coffee Blog lives! You may recall that a little over a year ago Russell and Emily announced the start of the West Chester Coffee Blog...and then you never heard mention of it again. This is because shortly after we started visiting coffee shops Emily decided to make a small change in her life. At that time, she had decided to get an associate degree in dental hygiene. We visited schools and planned it all out and were just about to commit to applications and such. Then she came to the realization that she would rather go to art school and study photography. Luckily, her father went to art school and knew she was going to need a crash course in drawing if she wanted to do this. We signed up for a figure drawing session at the local art association and started visiting art programs. The bottom line is that the coffee blog quickly fell off our plate. 

A lot has happened in the last year. We are happy to say, in case you didn't know, that Emily is now enrolled in Kutztown University as a freshman in the fine arts program. Also, Emily and Dad went to Europe where we were able to connect with the outer reaches of our coffee inner-selves, and a whole bunch of new coffee places have opened up in and around West Chester. 

I won't go over the my relationship with coffee since you can read about in my original post here. In that post, I describe my life before good coffee (LBGC) and life after good coffee (LAGC). What I am looking for is a cup of coffee that can change your life. Going to Croatia this past summer really did help recalibrate exactly what that cup of coffee is. The immediate issue for me is how do I convey what I think a good cup of coffee is to you? I have actually thought about this a lot over the past year. This is what I have come up with. 

Cafe macchiato from Cafe Festival, Dubrovnik Croatia, 10 August 2016, 8:34 AM. All is good in the world. 

Cafe macchiato from Cafe Festival, Dubrovnik Croatia, 10 August 2016, 8:34 AM. All is good in the world. 

What you see above is a Cafe macchiato from Cafe Festival in Dubrovnik. On a scale from 1 to 10 this cup off coffee was an eleven. Cafe Festival was on a street with a whole bunch of places that served coffee in the 9 to 10 range. This place stood out not just because the coffee was perfect, but because the setting was perfect. A beautiful cafe, on a busy street, with lots of people where you could sit and do nothing but take in humanity for hours at a time. There is simply no words to describe how good this cup of coffee was. 

In my post from a year ago, I mentioned how Starbucks would play into this whole thing. If I were to say on a scale of 1 to 10 how does an expresso from Starbucks compare to one from Cafe Festival I'd say it was somewhere in the 6-7 range. It's not so much that Starbucks is bad, it's more that I have a really high standard for what is truly exceptional. That said, what is great about Starbucks is that they are consistent. I have been to many Starbucks across North America. When you order an expresso from any of them, you will consistently get an expresso that is a 6-7. With that information in hand and instead of trying to rate the coffee shops around West Chester on a scale from 1 to 10, I will simply say in very general terms how it compares to Starbucks. My assumption is that most people have been to Starbucks, thus you will be able to gauge what I think it better or worse based you your experience there. Make sense? Great. 

Our retooled plan, now that Emily is not here, is to go out every Saturday morning and visit a coffee shop. Rule one is that it has to be walking distance from our house (after we visit all the places that are walking distance we will reevaluate rule one). I (Russell) will get an expresso, Mary will get a drip every time and give you our opinion as best we can comparing apples to apples. William and Paddy will be color commentators for everything else. Every once in a while Emily will come home and head out with us as a guest commentator. She will almost certainly order a fancy dressed up drink that barely qualifies as coffee. We will try to convey the whole experience. We will certainly order some kind of yummy treat (William and Paddy are forcing us to do this), and we will let you know about the general ambiance of the place. 

Our next post will start off with a visit to Starbucks. Preview below. 

 

Dulpo espresso at Starbucks. 

Dulpo espresso at Starbucks. 

Going back to the concept of LBGC and LAGC. Emily has been raised since a very early age not to compromise when it comes to coffee. She get physically agitated if someone ask her if she wants a cup of coffee from Wawa. She is one of the lucky ones as she has always had pretty good coffee options since birth. However, until our trip to Europe this summer she had never crossed the line into the world of LAGC. I have actually captured this on film. Yikes, can we even say that any more. Let me rephrase. I have several files with a series of 1's and 0's that form an image of Emily's LBGC and LAGC. 

Here she is, an eighteen year old girl, terribly jet lagged, hating the world. Before her is her first european cappuccino. Let's see what happens. 

There you have it ladies and gentlemen! The results are stunning! LAGC! After the first sip the world is now a happy place. Colors are vibrant, all the sounds in the world are now like a symphony! Everyone is beautiful. Life is good! 

Emily took to cafe culture like nobody's business while we were in Croatia. I think it is safe to say the hook as been deeply set and there is no going back. As it should be. Mary and I couldn't be prouder or our little girl. 

Ciao for now. Remember...contemplate the cup...be the bean...and for the love of Pete don't put pumpkin spice in your coffee. That is just nasty. 

Russell 

Bug Milestone

#00001 - Seven Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata Linnaeus 1758, collected at Cleman Mountain, Yakima Co., WA, on 18 August 1999; #10000 - Crawling Water Beetle, Peltodytes edentulus (LeConte 1863), collected at Bridgeport Township, Gloucester Co., NJ on 16 August 2016. 

#00001 - Seven Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata Linnaeus 1758, collected at Cleman Mountain, Yakima Co., WA, on 18 August 1999; #10000 - Crawling Water Beetle, Peltodytes edentulus (LeConte 1863), collected at Bridgeport Township, Gloucester Co., NJ on 16 August 2016. 

I have always liked insects and in particular I enjoy beetles. I find their diversity endlessly fascinating. I started collecting insects when I was in high school in the late 1970's. I amassed a small collection of a couple hundred specimens. Then I went of to college and didn't think about them for a number of years. When I dug the boxes out to storage I found that beetles liked my beetle collection as much as I did. All of the specimens had in fact been put through a beetle biomass recycling program, which is to say they were consumed by dermestid beetles and turned to beetle poo. Such is the economy of nature. 

But to be honest, birds consumed much of my time and attention. When we moved to Washington in 1992 I spent most of my time traveling from one end of the state to the other trying to see as many birds as I could and learning about the natural history of the Pacific Northwest. I didn't have time or the resources as to seriously collect insects. 

Then in on August 4, 1998, Emily was born. All of the sudden I no longer had the time to go bird watching the way I had prior to her birth. With a readjustment how my time was allocated I began to think more about insects. I realized that I could collect a specimen, mount it, and tuck it away with a fairly small time commitment and later when time permitted, I could sit down and figure what they all were. 

So it began. I entered the first specimen into a database that I created for my collection. A seven spotted lady beetle. Two days shy of 17 years later I collected the 10,000th specimen, a crawling water beetle. 

Close up of #10000 - Crawling Water Beetle, Peltodytes edentulus, collected at Bridgeport Township, Gloucester Co., NJ on 16 August 2016. 

Close up of #10000 - Crawling Water Beetle, Peltodytes edentulus, collected at Bridgeport Township, Gloucester Co., NJ on 16 August 2016. 

Crawling water beetles are one of my favorite beetles. They have large expanded plates where their rear legs attached to their bodies. These plates are for holding little bubbles of air. By doing this they can stay underwater for extended periods of time. Natures little scuba divers. Here is a good photo of one showing the bubble

Here are a few statistics of my insect collection. 

  • Of the 10,081, approximately 8000 are beetles. 
  • I have representatives of 85 of the 131 beetle families known to occur in North America. 
  • Approximately 90% of the beetles are identified to genus.
  • Approximately 50% of those are identified to species. 
  • 79 counties are represented from every continent except Australia, all collected as interceptions from international cargo entering the United States.
  • 17 different states represented.

When I set up my database I figured I would only need 5 digits for the numbering system. At the rate I'm going I should get no where near 99999. My insect collection is also the primary reason I don't update this blog more than I do! With that, I have some insects to sort out!

Balkan Birds 2016

An adult Red-backed Shrike, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 10 August 2016

An adult Red-backed Shrike, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 10 August 2016

I'm sure every birder does what I when they are about to take a trip to a part of the world that they don't visit often and that is to get out a field guide and tally up all the possibilities that are out there. From my past visits to Europe and the Middle East I did fairly well in ticking of a great number of species you would expect to see there. In taking account as to what I might see in Croatia the one species that floated to the top of the list was ELENORA'S FALCON. I discovered that they nest on the Island of Mlijet about 20 km away from Dubrovnik. For a large wide ranging bird like this that is probably in it's post breeding dispersal, I gave my realistic chances at seeing one to be very low, even if I were to visit the island they nest on.

As luck would have it, an ELENORA'S FALCON was fluttering down to land on an antenna on the main terminal at the Dubrovnik airport as we got of the bus from the airplane. It was literally the first bird that I saw in Croatia. Awesome. Check that off the list and relax.

Another bird that is always on my most want to see list for Europe is HAWFINCH. When I lived in Rome, every day that I stepped out of doors I thought to myself "is this the day I'm finally going to see a Hawfinch?" Well, sadly that day never came. They can be a very difficult bird to see. In reviewing the range map for this time of year and for area I would be going for this trip, I didn't even include it on my list of possibilities as the breeding range didn't seem like it extended on to the coastal area that I was staying.

When it came time for us to pack up and head to the airport, we got there early with several hours to kill before our flight to Zagreb. I remembered from our arrival that there was a nice stand of pine trees outside of the terminal. I thought I'd take a walk over there to see if I could get one or two more species for the trip list. I had also forgotten how sulken passerines can be in Europe. Just about all of the birds on my trip list up till then took a lot of work to get them to come out of the bushes. As it turned out this little patch of trees was full of birds. I quickly picked up a WHITE WAGTAIL, WOOD WARBLER, and SPOTTED FLYCATCHER which were new for the trip. There was also an immature RED-BACKED SHRIKE that landed on the ground to catch and eat an insect no more than 18 inches or so from my feet. I actually had to bend over to see it's facial features well enough to make sure of my id.

While I was looking at the SPOTTED FLYCATCHER I noticed a bird higher up in the trees that seemed to be preening. As I got my binoculars into focus I could see the giant bill of a HAWFINCH sorting out the wing coverts of an extended wing. I nearly fell over in disbelief. This was my second lifer and literally that last bird that I saw in Croatia, both at the improbable location of the Dubrovnik Airport.

Ironically, as soon as I saw the HAWFINCH at the Dubrovnik Airport, I realized that I had actually seen a flyover that same morning at Park Ursula. It was so out of the realm of what I was expecting it just didn't register until I saw the one at the airport. 

Hillside of Park Orsula, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Hillside of Park Orsula, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Park Orsula is just to the south of Dubrovnik. It consisted of a blocked off road that ran along the steep slopes that dropped down the Adriatic coastline. There was no development along about a one mile stretch of road. There were very few people as well. From old city Dubrovnik it was a bout 6 miles of total walking. I tried to get up just before sun rise (5:00 AM). I managed to this walk on four mornings and one afternoon. I was also able to collect a few good insects along the walk as well. Otherwise all the birding I was able to do was incidental.

Below is an annotated list of the 48 species that I saw from August 7 to August 13. The main locations were Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor Montenegro (8/9); Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina (8/11); and Frankfurt, Germany (8/7). There were several other unidentified birds as well; a probable eagle species over a mountain along the Neretva River in Bosnia-Herzegovena; a small brown backed warbler, possibly as Cetti's Warbler at Park Ursula; a couple of finch types that I just couldn't get an eye on and at least one other species of unknown thrush. I was surprised that there were no Redstarts, Windchats, or Stonechats. 

Mallard - 5 or 6 birds were seen in the moat area of the city walls of Kotor. Approximately 10 birds flying over Mostar..

Gray Heron - 1 bird seen in the Neretva River near Pocitlj, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kestrel - 1 seen two different days along Park Orsula road.

Hobby - 1 adult flying over Mostar.

Elenora's Falcon - LIFER! 1 Adult at Dubrovnik Airport.

Common Sandpiper - 1 seen briefly at the water's edge along Park Orsula road.

Black-headed Gull - Many seen along coast Kotor to Dubrovnik. A few seen on Neretva River.

Herring Gull - Very common. Seen in every location every day.

Yellow-legged Gull - A few seen in Dubrovnik. Probably more common that I noted. I admittedly didn't look at every large Herring Gull to make sure it wasn't a Yellow-legged Gull.

Caspian Tern - Only 2 birds seen. One in the Bay of Kotor and one near Dubrovnik.

Rock Doves on rocks, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Rock Doves on rocks, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Rock Dove - Common, seen everywhere. Some of the birds seen in the rocky cliffs along Park Orsula may have been pretty close to real Rock Doves.

Wood Pigeons in the grass, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Wood Pigeons in the grass, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Wood Pigeon - Common parks in Frankfurt.

Turtle Dove - Common in Dubrovnik, Kotor and Mostar.

Swift - A few, 12 or so total, mixed in with the Alpine Swifts around Dubrovnik. 

Alpine Swift - Very common, at Dubrovnik. Scores constantly overhead. Even late into the evening they would fly up and down the Stadun of Dubrovnik. Occasionally I'd see them land on a ledge top of buildings.

Kingfisher - Only 1 seen along the water's edge at Dubrovnik our first day.

Bee-eater - 1 seen on a tombstone from the bus just outside of Mostar. A short but very good look.

River Neretva, Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

River Neretva, Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

Roller - 5 or 6 in the trees of the River Neretva in Mostar.

Crag Martin - 5 0r 6 a day in Dubrovnik. 2 or 3 in Mostar and Kotor.  

Barn Swallow, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Barn Swallow, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Barn Swallow - The most common swallow by far. Hundreds seen every day. 

Red-rumped Swallow - The first morning out, 8 August, 20 or so were seen with Barn Swallows around Dubrovnik. After than only 1 or 2 a day. 

House Martin - Approximately 10 a day in all locations. 

White/Pied Wagtail - One at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Grey Wagtail - 1 at Kotor and 5 at Mostar. 

Blackbird - 10 - 15 a day around Dubrovnik. 1 along Main River in Frankfurt. 

Blue Rock Thrush - 4 or 5 on the cliffs at Park Orsula. I heard more than I saw. 

Wheatear - 1 from the bus window on the way to Kotor in Montenegró

Lesser Whitethroat - On 9 August around 8 - 10 were seen in one back yard on the way to Park Orsula. After that only 1 or 2 a day and only in Dubrovnik. 

Sardinian Warbler - Probably the most common passerine in Dubrovnik. Including House Sparrow. Their calls were incessant in yards and hillsides around just outside of the old city. 

Eastern Subalpine Warbler - 1 female at Park Orsula. Great looks at it using play back of its calls on my phone. 

Olivaceous Warbler - At least 2 in a yard on the way to Park Orsula on 8 August. 

Willow Warbler - One I figured out the song with the deciding notes was a Willow Warbler (not a Canyon Wren) they seemed to be every where. I only got a good look a couple of them. 

Wood Warbler - 2 along the road to Park Orsula. 

Chiffchaff - 1 at Park Orsula. 

Spotted Flycatcher - 1 at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Great Tit - 2 or 3 along Main River in Frankfurt. 2 or 3 daily in Dubrovnik. 

Nuthatch - 2 on the last day at Park Ursula. I was surprised not to see Rock Nuthatch. I remember them being very common in Greece. 

Tree lined walk along Main River, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Tree lined walk along Main River, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Treecreeper - 1 on a tree along the Main River in Frankfurt. 

Lesser Gray Shrike - Fantastic views of one my first day in Park Orsula. 

Red-backed Shrike - Fantastic views of one my second day in Park Orsula in almost the same location as the Lesser Gray Shrike from the day before. 1 immature at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Jackdaw - Dubrovnik, Croatia, 8 August 2016. 

Jackdaw - Dubrovnik, Croatia, 8 August 2016. 

Jackdaw - Only one! And there it is on a roof top in Dubrovnik. 

Alpine Chough - about 30 high above Kotor. 

Carrion Crow - Only in Frankfurt. Pretty common there. 

Raven - 1 in Croatia just before the boarder crossing into Montenegró.

Starling - Only in the agricultural areas of Croatia on the way to Mostar and a few in Mostar. Otherwise, they were absent. 

House Sparrows - Dubrovnik, Croatia. Eating ice cream? 

House Sparrows - Dubrovnik, Croatia. Eating ice cream? 

House Sparrow - Common in towns and cities. 

Hawfinch - LIFER! BIRD TO MY TRIP! Stuff! I at the Dubrovnik Airport and 1 flyover at Park Orsula. 

Ortolan Bunting - 4 or 5 daily at Park Orsula. 

 

 

 

Emily and Russell's Big Trip

Dubrovnik, Croatia, the "Pearl of the Adriatic."

Dubrovnik, Croatia, the "Pearl of the Adriatic."

Now that Emily has graduated from Henderson High School and will soon be off to Kutztown University to work towards a BFA in Photography, she gets a "senior trip" . We have told each of the kids that they can have a trip to wherever they like in the world, within reason. When we asked Emily were she would like to go, she said London. Great. We started making plans for London. 

About two or three weeks later Emily thought something further afield would be in order. Since we hadn't purchased anything for London yet, we double clicked on google maps and started looking around. She definitely wanted to go to Europe, so I suggested Scandinavia. We looked there for about ten minutes and realized places like Oslo and Copenhagen were very expensive. I then suggested perhaps some places in eastern Europe would be interesting and almost certainly less expensive. We clicked on a number of places, Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Bratislava, and so on. We then clicked on Dubrovnik, Croatia. Right away, Emily knew that was the place for her. Why you might wonder? Well it is where many scenes from the HBO series "The Game of Thrones" is filmed. It is the setting for King's Landing. Who wouldn't want to hang out with kings?

So, Dubrovnik it was. We made plans, got airline tickets, reserved a place to stay, got an international plant for our phones, cleared a credit card for cash advances, and got passports. Mine expired in 1994, and I forgot that on that original passport they put the wrong year of birth on it. This caused much distress with the issuers of passports, and they requested much more in the way of paperwork and a long form birth certificate. No sweat. It arrived in the mail within a week of our departure. On August 6, Emily and I left Philadelphia heading for Frankfurt, Germany, then on to Dubravnik. While we were in Dubravnik we took day trips to Mostar, Bosnia-Heregovina and to Kotor, Montenegró.

This post will be a condensed summary of our trip. Between the two of us, we took over 1800 photographs. We will reduce that down to the best 100 or so for this post. Over the next couple of weeks or so, I'll try to do a more in depth post on the various places we went, the food, birds, the war, etc. 

If you want to skip all the reading and go right to the photos click here

As a side note, in case you are wondering where the Coffee Blog went, it is still in the works. Shortly after Emily and I set out to visit coffee spots in West Chester, Emily decided to change directions in her life. Up until that time, she was thinking of going to school for a career as a dental hygienist, mostly because mom insisted that she needed to take some direction.  Then one day, she woke up and decided that she wanted to go to art school and be a photographer. This meant we had to do some crash courses in drawing, do extra work at school, create twelve concentration pieces for AP art class, and make rush visits to art schools. Something had to fall off the plate, and that something was our coffee blog. As it turns out, Croatian's excel in making great coffee. We think it's probably a good thing that we held off, as we both have a better world view of what great coffee should be. 

Downtown Frankfurt. 

Downtown Frankfurt. 

Frankfurt, Germany

[Day 1, August 7] On our way to Dubravnik we had an 8 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. We arrived at 7:30 AM so we had most of the day ahead of us. With our suitcases checked all the way to Dubrovnik, we decided to head out of the airport and take a train downtown. I had been to Frankfurt 31 years earlier in 1985. It was strange to think that in 1985 none of the four countries that we planned to visit existed as they do in their current state. Germany was still divided and Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro were areas within the former Yugoslavia. East and West Germany came together in a peaceful festive way while Yugoslavia fell apart in a horrible and violent civil war. 

We really had no objective with our visit other than to find some coffee and something to eat and to roam around and see what we might find. From the airport we found the train right train to take in to Frankfurt but getting the tickets turned out to be a little bit of of a challenge. There were automated kiosk where you would get the tickets but for some reason the all would only accept exact change, which was 15.80 Euros. Getting that last .80 Euro cents was not easy. We got a pretty grumpy response from all the places we asked for change. Finally we found a train ticket place that had a human being behind a desk and were able to get the ticket with our credit card. Fortunately that was the most difficult part of our day. We got on the train and into town without any problem. We actually made it to town before most of the breakfast places were even open. 

We found our way to the main tourist part of town, just as the espresso machines were being turned on. Emily and I sat down to a giant cup of cappuccino and a yummy breakfast. After than we walked around like zombies as jet lag set in. We did get to see a lot of nice sights around Frankfurt. There was a big triathlon taking place throughout the downtown area so we kept running into runners and cyclist giving all that the've got. However, I don't think any of them were suffering like Emily and I were suffering. We walked in a big loop back to the train station and got back to the airport just fine and with plenty of time to catch our flight to Dubrovnik. 

Dubrovnik's main street, Stradun, at 5:00 AM when all is quiet. The surface is not wet, it is highly polished from centuries of foot travel. 

Dubrovnik's main street, Stradun, at 5:00 AM when all is quiet. The surface is not wet, it is highly polished from centuries of foot travel. 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

[Day 2, August 8] Our flight from Frankfurt to Dubrovnik was only about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Our landing in at the Dubrovnik airport was about as rough a landing as I have ever experienced. I thought that it must be the pilots first day with the new airplane. However, when we exited the plane on to the tarmac we realized that we should probably give the pilot a little more credit because the wind was absolutely howling! 

Our flight arrived around 5:30 PM. I figured we would be pretty worn out by the time we got there, so I arranged to have our hotel pick us up at the airport and drive us into into Dubrovnik. The driver dropped us off at the city gates as there are no cars inside the city walls. All we can say is that Dubrovnik was as stunning from the first time we laid eyes on it until we left seven days later. What a place to behold. 

Dubrovnik is one of the few walled cities from the middle ages that is still intact, and as such it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's origins go back until at least the 7th century. Recent archaeological evidence suggest that the spot has been occupied by humans for much longer probably dating back to Greek and Roman times. I won't go into the history here as other webpages do it much better than I can. The wall is in fact completely intact as you can walk around the entire old city on it. This was the first thing we did on our first full day there. 

The Old City does not have any automobile traffic with the exception of early mornings when delivery trucks drive in the the city at it's main gate and on the the Stradum. From there deliveries are made on little trucks a little smaller than golf carts. These little trucks can deliver stuff to about half of the cities homes and shops. The others have to have thing brough in on hand carts or by hand alone. The absence of automobiles is the primary reason that we chose to stay in an apartment in Old City as opposed to a cheaper hotel outside of the city walls. While this cost a little extra, it was well worth it. We were able to explore the city for as long or as little as we liked and could easily retreat back to our apartment to rest or take a short nap. 

Everything about Dubrovnik was charming. many of the shops were the size of a large closet. Many of the restaurants in fact had no indoor seating. The kitchen's occupied the area of a large closet and the dining area was outside under large umbrella's or simply a row of tables a long a narrow street (a narrow alley by most cities standards). The middle part of the day, however, got pretty crowded with people as the cruise ships would bus people in from the nearby harbor. 

The tourist were from all over the world, but it seemed to us that the majority were Russian and Italian. Most of the local residents speak fairly good English, so for us getting around was pretty easy. All menus were in at least Croatian and English, and many were in four or five languages. All of the local people that we met were very friendly and easy to get along with. We really couldn't have asked for a more pleasant place to vacation. 

Kotor, Montenegró

Kotor, Montenegró

Kotor, Montenegró

[Day 3, August 9] From Dubrovnik we scheduled two day trips. I was able to schedule these several weeks prior to our arrival through Expedia. Both trips were about $65 per person. Our first trip was to Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is another walled city which is about 51 miles to the south. Our tour also stopped at Our Lady or the Rocks, in the Bay of Kotor, off the small town of Perast. Montenegró is Europe's newest country gaining its independence from Serbia in 2006. 

We took a tour bus from Dubrovnik. We knew things would be a little different in Montenegró as soon as we crossed the boarder. This trip was my first trip out of the country after being employed by the US to guard our borders, thus I took a special interest in who other countries handled such things. When our bus pulled up to the border crossing for Montenegro, there was a long line of vehicles. Our tour guide hopped out of the bus and ran down to the guard station. A after a moment or two, she returned to the bus and we were waved over to another empty lane and made a very short stop at the guard's booth and then headed on down the road. Our tour guide told us that we were able to skip a long wait by bribing the customs officers with bottled water! I would have thought that would at least warrant some Belgian chocolates or a sandwich. 

This actually kind of set the tone for the look and feel of Montenegró. It seems to have been struck fairly hard by the Soviet ugly stick. When Yugoslavia broke up, Russia took Montenegró under its wing as a Adriatic vacation spot for Russians and invested heavily in the country. When Montenegró gained independence it applied to be a member of the European Union. This put Montenegró in a rough spot, as the EU had condemned Russia for it's actions in the Ukraine. If Montenegró wanted membership in the EU it would also have to condemn Russia. As a result, Russian money dried up and has left the region in some economic hardship. It shows. To us, Montegeró looked like what most of eastern Europe probably looked like before the fall of the Soviet Union. Everything there seemed to have gray and depressing feel about it. 

Our first stop was the Our Lady of the Rocks. This is a small church built on an artificial island ????? the By or Kotor. Legend has it that a sailor found an icon of the Madonna and child on a rock in the bay. A tradition formed where sailors who returned from sea would drop a rock at the site to pay respect for their safe return. The story goes that after 200 years of dropping rocks and sinking old vessels loaded with rock ballast, there was enough island to build a church on it. After the church was built instead of leaving rocks sailors would leave items of various and sundry nature. What we have today is a church in the middle of the bay with a vary large and strange collection of odds and ends from the last 500 years or so. To get to the church, you have to take a short ferry ride. The church is still used today for sailors who still leave stuff and weddings. There is a tradition that the brides leave their flower bouquet attached to the inside of the church doors. There are hundreds of bouquets hanging there now. 

After a hour or so we headed on to Kotor. Like Dubrovnik, Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is about the same age as Dubrovnik and it its old city walls are mostly intact. However, it looks much different as it was under Venetian rule for 500 years. So the architecture more resembles that of Venice. The old city of Kotor is much smaller than Dubrovnik. You can pretty much walk around the entire city in a few minutes. The difference is that the city walls go high above the city up a hillside to a height of 260 meters (850 feet). In all there is approximately 3 miles of wall that goes up and around the hillside (mountain side?) The walls were built this way in order to defend against invading Turks. Otherwise, invaders would just about be able to sit on the hillside and throw rocks down onto it's inhabitants. 

The most interesting thing that we saw in the old city was the church of St. Lukes. It was built in 1195 and looks notably older than everything else in Kotor. It was used by both Catholic and Orthodox worshipers until 1812, and is still used by Orthodox today. 

Lokrum Island as seen from the top of Mount Srd. 

Lokrum Island as seen from the top of Mount Srd. 

Lokrum and Mount Srd

[Day 4, August 10] What we didn't mention about our trip to Montenegró was that we had to get up "early" and meet the bus at 8:25 AM. This of course nearly killed Emily. To be honest we were both really tired after the day's bus ride. For the midway point of our trip we chose to stay close to Dubrovnik and sleep. Well Emily slept in, Dad got up at 5 AM and went birdwatching. 

We visited the island of Lokrum and took the cable car up to Mount Srd. Lokrum is a small island that is actually within the city boundaries of Dubrovnik and only 600 meters from the mainland shore. It is a short 10 minute ferry ride the first of which leave the Dubrovnik harbor at 11:00 AM. This was almost to early for Emily to make but a valiant effort on Dad's part to get her up and moving before noon (with the promise of a nice breakfast and big cup of coffee) we made the first ferry out. The ferries come and go about every 30 minutes throughout the day so you can leave pretty much whenever you are ready. 

Lokrum is a billed as a nature preserve. It has a monastery, a nice restaurant, a spa, soccer fields, and a bar where you can get some relief from the wilds of the European forest. We brought our own lunch but we did take advantage of the local watering hole. I got a freshly squeezed glass of lemonade and Emily got a fruit smoothy. Very refreshing. We spend a fair amount of time on the rocky beach and walked around the island seeing the sights. We walked to the very top of the island where there is an old fort that was built in the early 1800s. 

Emily's big contact with nature was a fish pedicure in the spa. This is the the trendy new thing where tiny fish nibble the skin on your feet down to make for smooth soft skin. Or so we are told. Whatever the purpose, Emily seem to really enjoy it. The forest there was actually fairly nice. The trees were full of cicadas which were doing what cicadas do, which as buzzing so loud that it was kind of hard to hear anything else. All in all it was a very pleasant day spent in the out doors. 

We headed by to town early enough make sure we could get on the cable car up to Mount Srd to see the sunset on the Adriatic. We still had to wait about 45 minutes before we could get on the cable car. At the top of Mount Srd there is a war museum commemoration the Bosnian War from 1991 to 1995. There is an old fort at the top of the mountain that was built during the Napolianic Wars in the early 1800's This fort and Mount Srd was the site of fierce battles between the Serbian army and air force and the Croatians. 

The views from the top of Mount Srd were breathtaking (by the way, don't ask how to pronounce "Srd" as we don't have a clue!). You could see the many island to the north of Dubrovnik. On the other side of the mountain to the east the you can see the many mountain peaks of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The boarder with Bosnia and Herzegovina is only a little more than a mile from the top of Mount Srd. We headed back down after the sun set and found a nice place to eat in the old city. 

The bridge over the river Nevereva, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

The bridge over the river Nevereva, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

[Day 5, August 11] I didn't let Emily know the bus for Bosnia and Herzegovina left a little earlier than the one for Montenegró, 7:45. There was lots of moaning. Fortunately Cafe Festival starts serving breakfast and espresso at 7:00. Moaning arrested. 

The old city of Mostar has long been a place that I had wanted to visit for a long time. From Dubrovnik it is only about a 2 and a half hour bus ride. The first thing that we learned from our tour guide is that you never say just Bosnia when referring to Bosnia and Herzegovina. She said it would be like saying just "Great" for Great Britain or "United" for United States. Bosnia-Herzegovina is acceptable. Also the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina that we were visiting was actually Herzegovina. Herzegovina occupies the southern part of the country while Bosnia occupies the northern part of the country. Our tour that we signed up for also included stops in Medjugorje and Počitelj. 

The first stop of the trip was a rest stop that served espresso, which we were very happy about. If you look at a map of Bosnia and Herzegovina you will notice that it is a completely landlocked country with the exception of a small narrow dog leg that shoots out towards the sea. This small dog leg also separates the narrow southern extent of Croatia from the rest of the country. We were told that this little dog leg was a concession from Croatia to ending the Bosnian war (Also known as Croatia's War for Independence). Bosnia and Herzegovina's only costal town, Neum is there. This is where we had our espresso. We are happy to report that everything is alright. 

Not counting the three border crossings (Croation into Bosnia-Herzegovina, back to Croatia, then back into Bosnia-Herzegovina, and there was no bribing the Customs officers with bottles of water), our first stop was Medjugorje. We had never heard of this town and had no idea what was there. We should have asked the Catholic in the family, Mom, because she knew exactly what it was, a famous pilgrimage site dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Apparently, back in the 1980's a group of kids claimed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a hillside. And that would be all she wrote. Catholic pilgrims now flock there by the thousands. The town and church otherwise is nothing special to see. What is staggering is the a degree of commercialization that surrounds it all. There are countless shops selling every kind of religious trinket imaginable. Most of the tourist there were Italian. We were there on  a Thursday morning and the church was filled to capacity. There were 500 to 600 people outside of the the church who couldn't get in. Behind the church was a large outdoor amphitheater that could seat another 8000 or so people  

We were only there for about an hour, which is good because Emily said she was starting to feel uncomfortable and was afraid that a nun was going to jump out of an alley and try and convert her at bible point. Mary commented that frankly, she was surprised we didn't spontaneously combust. 

Moving on we arrived at Mostar at about 11:00 AM. Mostar is a very old city who's origins go back to Roman times. It is a city where east meets west and where Europe starts to turn into the Middle East or Asia. The city is famous for its bridge that spans over the Neretva River and the old town areas is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over half of the cities residents are Islamic.

The bridge much of Mostar were destroyed in the Bosnian Civil War from 1991 to 1995. The bridge and the old city were rebuilt and reopened in its current state by 2004. However, if you go out side of the are of the old city, the scars of war are still very easy to see. Many buildings are still in a state of ruin. The apartment buildings at the spot where our bus dropped us off were absolutely riddled with bullet holes. It all stood as a stark reminder of the bad things humans can do to each other. 

Nonetheless, our stay in Mostar was fairly short. Our local tour guide was fairly long winded and once she was done we had just enough time to get some lunch and walk from one end of town to the other. 

One the way back to Dubrovnik we made one one more short stop at yet another walled town from the middle ages, Počitelj. This small wall town (population of about 900) is unique in that it has change very little moving into the modern era. It is still a living city that is, for the most part, contained within it original walls. 

This is a spot in Park Gradac, just outside old city Dubrovnik where Joffrey's (Purple) Wedding was filmed in the HOB series "The Game of Thrones."

This is a spot in Park Gradac, just outside old city Dubrovnik where Joffrey's (Purple) Wedding was filmed in the HOB series "The Game of Thrones."

Dubrovnik

[Day 6-7, August 12-13] Our last two days of our trip were spent in Dubrovnik shopping and relaxing. We tried to walk to spots around the city where we hadn't yet seen. We did sign up for a "Game of Thrones" tour that walked us around the city to see the locations that were used for various and sundry scenes in the television show. That was neat to see, but our tour guide might possibly have been the most annoying person ever. We got dressed up and went out for a nice last dinner at a place call "Lady Pi-Pi" The meal was great. The name of the place is strange. We will give a full explanation on our post about food. 

Our flight back home was also annoying. Remember, when you buy the cheapest tickets you are probably going to pay in other ways. Our flight from Dubrovnik left at about 9:00 PM. It went to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. We got there a little after 10:00 PM. Our flight to Frankfurt didn't leave until 7:30 AM. We were left with nothing to do other than find a quiet corner of the airport and try to get a little sleep. That was only a little bit successful. Once we got to Frankfurt, we had another long layover of 5 hours. Thankfully, the Frankfurt airport is very large and had many good options for a grand breakfast, our last meal in Europe. Our flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia left at 1:00 PM and arrived at 4:30 PM. I think by about 6:00 we were both fast asleep! 

West Chester Coffee Blog

Coffee. 1990 61X81 cm Oil on canvas.

Coffee. 1990 61X81 cm Oil on canvas.

In 1984, when I was 23 years old, I headed off to Rome to study abroad for a year. The first thing that I remember doing on the very first day that I was there is ordering a cup of coffee. That moment can really be considered a dividing point in my life, Life Before Good Coffee (LBGC) and Life After Good Coffee (LAGC). Prior to that moment, coffee was just something you would have in the morning to get you moving. After that moment, it became ritualized. Not just any cup of coffee would do. Each morning I'd stroll up Via del Corso on my way to school, and along the way I'd take in a dozen or so cups of cappuccino. Aah. La dolce vita!

When I returned to Philadelphia in 1985 a stark reality slapped me square in the face. The thing that had become a daily sacrament was replaced by something unfit to clean the bathroom floor at the 30th Street Station. I either made my own cup of coffee or there was none to be had. Life took a serious down turn for a while. In fact, you will see a cup of coffee in many of my paintings from the late 1980's, like the one above. This manifestation of me crying on the inside. 

By the time Mary and I were married in 1991, I had heard rumors that good coffee could be found in Seattle. This left us with only one option; we packed up the wagon and headed west. For the next 20 years or so we lived in a relative state of coffee stability. In the Pacific Northwest every wide spot in the road had a drive through espresso stand. Really. As a wildlife biologist, I often worked in some very remote areas in Washington. There was never a place so remote that I couldn't find an espresso stand and get something good to start my day off well.  

It also happened that during that 20 years, the idea that "coffee was something more" seem to spread throughout the county. In our return to the east coast in 2011, Starbucks could be found from coast to coast and everywhere in-between. Albeit, the Great Plains can still be considered the great plain. I actually had to put some effort into finding a Starbucks in that part of the county but it could be done. 

Here in West Chester there is a Starbucks on the corner of the main junction downtown. It is always full of people. That is not all; Starbucks has competition. There are many cafes and restaurants around West Chester offering something better than could be found here in 1985. Some of these places seem to know what the coffee ritual is all about and some of them think that running Folger's through an espresso machine will do. 

Emily and I are here to help sort out the good and the bad for you. We plan to visit as many places in West Chester that have coffee to offer beyond the roadside diner drip swill. Every weekend or so, we plan to visit a different coffee shop and report to you what we think about it. Our first stop will be the Starbucks on the Corner of High and Gay in Downtown West Chester. 

I mention Starbucks a lot in this short blog post. In the Pacific Northwest Starbucks was considered a dirty word amongst coffee snobs, me being one of them. However, there are many reasons to like Starbucks and what they do. More on that in our next post. 

Russell and Emily. 

We're still here!

What is the difference between being unemployed and employed? When I was unemployed I managed to post something to my blog almost every day. With full employment I seem to be averaging about two posts a year! Its not that I don't have things to say, I have plenty to say. As I mentioned in my post from way back in November 2014, it is that I have little left in the tank at the end of the day, week, or month, to actually say it. 

We are currently in the second week of our vacation at Rehoboth Beach. This would be the first full vacation that I have had since I started my job in August of 2013. That said, I have now done enough lying around to muster up the energy to catch up on a few things. To start with, the one post that I did manage to make to the blog back in May, I was unable to get the word out because my email server wasn't allowing my to send a email message to more that five or so people as the addressee. By the time I worked that problem out, I had forgotten that I updated the blog. That post was about sending Ed, our primary vehicle, up the great parking lot in the sky and replacing it with Walter, a 2014 Honda Odyssey. 

For the rest of my family update, I'll list things off the top of my head and tell you about them with plenty of links to family photos and such through out. Feel free to read the stuff that interests you and skip the others. Or, just skip the whole thing and go back to browsing Facebook, checking the latest baseball scores, or reading the news. I think 'The Donald' stuck his foot in his mouth again. You would think he would run out of feet at some point. He appears to be a human millipede. 

WORK. Now that I have been in my new job for two years a lot of people have asked what I do and the things that I find guarding the boarder from agricultural pests and the like. You would think that after two years I would not refer to it as a new job, but that is very much the case. Unlike the private sector, with public sector jobs it can take much longer to hit your stride. Back in Washington someone once told me that in the private sector you are pretty much given two weeks to get up to speed and then you are on your own. With the public sector, the get "up to speed" period is more like a year after which you are then put on a very short leash. I would have to agree with this statement. However, with my current agency, the size of our regulatory umbrella is so vast, that even after two years I feel like I'm only halfway there. Check out photos of my ramblings from the Port of Philadelphia here

THE BOYS VISIT PHL. One of the benefits of my job is that I am allowed to escort people in and out of the airport. Occasionally the airport will have an interesting display of arts or crafts. Back in November they had a display from the Philadelphia Model Ship Society. I also gave them a tour of other interesting things at the airport like the Lego Liberty Bell. We finished off the day with a cheesesteak and fries. See photos of a lot of really cool model ships here

EMILY. It is funny how Emily will never let her parents take a picture of her. However, since our phones and computers are all linked, I often find photos of her various and sundry hair styles that have been automatically uploaded to our family photo album. See the many faces of Emily here

CHARLIE. Another group of photos that I find from the kids are of Charlie. Poor little critter never gets a moment of peace. See the cute photos here

DRESSING UP or down. A favorite activity of some of the current teen and twenty-something generation is to dress up like a favorite animation character and go to a convention (called a con or comic con) to show it off. Some of these homemade costumes are truly spectacular. See them here

SOCCER! Again, Russell, Steve and Paddy, along with an occasional guest, head for the football pitch. We usually define the season as that time when we go scream obscenities at the opposing team. However, this year our home team, the Philadelphia Union, are playing so poorly that most of our obscenities are tossed in their direction. Paddy played indoor soccer over the winter then moved outside in the spring. In the middle of the outdoor soccer season he fell at practice and broke his collar bone! Ironically two weeks prior to breaking his collar bone, he was in the hospital due to an infection in the same arm and shoulder. Because he was in the hospital he was unable to attend a Union home game, thus giving William his opportunity to attend his first professional soccer game. In July, we had the rare opportunity to attend the Gold Cup final match between Jamaica and Mexico at Lincoln Field in Philly. We decided to support the Reggie Boyz, who were the clear underdogs. We also stepped up our tailgate actives a notch. We bought a new camp stove that has a grill and a burner. While our teams usually end up on the loosing end, our tailgates are winners every time. See photos of our season so far here

BIRTHDAYS, WEDDINGS, AND FUNERALS. Since the last update, William turned 14, Mary turned 49, Kenny turned 86, Russell turned 35 (remember I'm dyslexic), and Emily turned 17. Kevin and Rico got married, and sadly Uncle Willie, William's namesake, passed away. Just incase I don't update the blog for a while, Paddy turns 11 in September. See photos here

MISCELLANEOUS. These are miscellaneous photos that you will enjoy seeing. Click here

VACATION. We are currently on vacation which brings us up to date! Check out scenes from Rehoboth Beach here

 

Goodbye Ed, Hello Walter

We recently said goodbye to our long time trusty steed Ed. Mary and I bought Ed new way back in 1994. Ed is a 1994 Honda Passport that has hauled our family up and down both coast and across the country. More that 250,000 miles in all. 

In case you are wondering, anything that we buy that cost more than $1000 gets a name. The name for my spotting scope is Zeke, my road bike is Zippy, my binoculars Bob, my microscope CarL., and so on. We gave the Honda the name "Ed" as "Ed" sounds like the name of a good friend who wouldn't leave you in a ditch. 

We bought Ed when I was doing a lot of field work on birds in rough and remote areas of Washington State. On Fort Lewis I had to travel down dirt roads that Abrams M1 tanks and Bradley Personnel Carriers used. These vehicles did not produce roads that an average personal vehicle can traverse. I am happy to say that Ed never once left me in a ditch. 

Between Ed and Tiny, our Toyota Echo, these are the only cars that Emily, Will, and Paddy have ever known. Ed brought each one of them home from the hospital and at various times since then hauled them all back to the hospital for miscellaneous cuts, bruises and broken bones. I also see a picture of Ed each time I open iPhoto on my computer because of the 37,219 digital photos we have the first ever was of Ed sitting in the driveway of our house in Olympia WA way back on April 18, 1998 (see below). 

As you might guess, Ed has been paid for for quite some time. In the 21 years that we have had Ed (yes, Ed is now old enough to drink!) he never had a major repair issued. In fact, it still has the original transmission and most of the clutch. This is remarkable considering that it is a manual transmission. If I remember correctly we only had the flywheel worked on, or something of that nature. It was my intention to drive Ed till it quit going forward as the total cost of maintaining it was far lower than the monthly payments for something newer. 

I am happy to say that Ed could still move forward. This year however, there were just to many little things that needed fixing in order to pass the annual inspection such as replacing the muffler. Plus, three of the four power windows lack power and the air conditioner no longer functions. Not a good combination for summer time in Philadelphia. So, back in February we started the process of getting a home equity loan to get a replacement.

Ed's days were numbered once the loan was approved at the end of March. On April 2 we all went down to the local Honda dealership to take a look around and came home with Walter, a slightly used (only 9000 miles) 2014 Honda Odyssey. Where did we come up with the name Walter you ask? Well, after we bought the car we went to a local cheesesteak vendor for a family meeting. We talked at length as to what would be a good name. I won't tell you out right, but here is a hint; the color of the new car is white and Mary and the kids recently watched all the Breaking Bad episodes on Netflix. 

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Wow! Was my last post really on 23 March?

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Well, I guess I have some explaining to do. All I have to say is: jobs...they just get in the way of doing most anything that you enjoy. 

Yes, I'm blaming it all on work. Through the end of May I was still doing on the job training, which meant that every two weeks my schedule would change, sometimes quite dramatically. Like going from 5:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the Philadelphia International Airport to 8:00 to 4:00 PM at a seaport in New Jersey, to 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM back at the airport. Each change in my schedule also brought a change in the days I would have off. We always have two days in a row off, but they might be any two consecutive days of the week (i.e. Monday/Tuesday, Thursday/Friday, Sunday/Monday, etc.). While I enjoy the variety, it does reek havoc with anything going on in your home life. 

This schedule was to continue through August but then four of my coworkers took positions elsewhere leaving us very short handed. At that point it was determined that I was trained enough and I was thrown into the regular rotation and another new schedule. The regular rotation changes every four weeks, however, recall that we lost four people. Add to that one person out on long term disability, and two out on paternity leave with new babies. That is a total of seven people from a staff of only 26. I might add that I was hired because they were short staffed to begin with. 

So, being so short on people since the first of June means that there has been a plethora of overtime available. Since I was unemployed for two years, I volunteered for every overtime shift available. This has meant that the first of June, I've worked approximately 60 hours a week, leaving very little time to keep up with a blog or even eating meals regularly. 

So, where do I begin with updates. First Mary has a new job! She is still teaching in the Catholic School system but instead of driving to King of Prussia (anywhere from 30 minute to a hour and a half comment) she is now teaching in a school about 4 miles from home. The kids are all doing well. Emily is in 11th grade, William is in 8th, and Paddy is in 4th. There has been many various and sundry things going on since March. I'll try and summarize it all in a photo album that you can click through which you can see here

 

The Stroud Preserve, 23 March 2014

Last season many people were interested in the Wilson's Snipe that I saw at the Stroud Preserve. Some were able to find them and others were not so lucky. Today there were at least 14 Wilson's Snipe in plain view. In the photo above Zeke, my trusty spotting scope, is set on the location of said birds. I got excellent views of the snipe through the scope from this position. I also got good view with just my binoculars. So, if there are people out there that are still looking for good looks of snipe now is a great time to visit the preserve. Also with them were at least 14 Killdeers. 

Paddy, William and Charlie

I have a lower species count compared to yesterday mainly because of the crew I brought along with me today. I always say that the best way not to see animals in nature is to bring one with you. Today I brought three, Charlie our dog, and my sons William and Paddy. 


Start time: 11:27

End time: 1:00

Temp: 36-40º

Wind: 8 mph from the NW

Skies: overcast

Species Total: 26

  • Black Vulture – approximately 15
  • Turkey Vulture – approximately 15
  • Canada Goose – approximately 100
  • Mallard – 4
  • Green-winged Teal – 6
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 2
  • American Kestrel – 1
  • Killdeer – 14
  • Wilson's Snipe – 14
  • Mourning Dove – 5
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 2
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • Northern Flicker – 1
  • Blue Jay – 3
  • American Crow – approximately 10
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 30
  • Carolina Chickadee – approximately 10
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 2
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 35
  • American Robin – approximately 30
  • Northern Mockingbird – 2
  • European Starling – approximately 25
  • Song Sparrow – 2
  • Dark-eyed Junco – 1
  • Northern Cardinal – 5
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 15

The Stroud Preserve, 22 March 2014

Snow drops (Galanthus nivalis)

Snow drops (Galanthus nivalis)

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis). 

Spring is finally making a good push forward here in Chester County despite a forecast of more snow on Tuesday. As you can see from the photo above, the patch of snow drops (Galanthus nivalis) on the west end of the preserve are in full bloom. A short distance away was a pactch of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), which is a new species for the preserve plant list. Both of these species are introduced and I try not to get to excited about non-native things, but since spring has been such as long time in coming I’ll give them both a pass for this year only. As expected, the one native plant that I found blooming was skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). But because of the extra moisture that the melting snows have provided I could not get close enough to them without sinking up to my chin in it. So for this installment of LeBlog, we’ll settle for the bloomin’ non-natives.

As mentioned above the melting snows have provided a lot of moisture to the landscape. In particular the field on the north side of the main road coming into the preserve has a lot of standing water. This standing water continues to attract many ducks and shorebirds. Today there were at least 12 Killdeer and at least 8 Wilson’s Snipe, which is the largest number of either that I have ever encountered here. I probably could have gotten a higher count if I had my spotting scope with me. At least 8 Green-winged Teal were with the Mallards and Canada Geese.

I should mention that if you look at a map of the preserve it shows that this field is not within the preserve boundaries. However, I do know that it will be given to the Natural Lands Trust to be apart of the preserve. This land also includes the pond that can be seen from the east end of the Bobolink field. I always check this pond for ducks that I would not otherwise see on the preserve. I have never seen anything different there until today when 10 Ring-necked Ducks were present. There is another farm pond a mile or so to the east were Ring-necked Ducks are regular visitors all throughout the winter.

First of the year birds were a single Osprey over the Brandywine and an Eastern Phoebe on the west end of the preserve. I finally managed to check out the Red-tailed Hawk’s nest site from last season. I was hoping that a Great Horned Owl would have taken up in it but the nest did not seem to have an owl or hawk present at all. In all 37 species were seen. See the details below. 

 

Start time: 11:35

End time: 2:17

Temp: 50-64º

Wind: 0-7 mph

Skies: Clear

Species Total: 37

 

  • Great Blue Heron – 1
  • Black Vulture – approximately 20
  • Turkey Vulture – approximately 25
  • Canada Goose – approximately 400
  • Wood Duck – 4
  • Mallard – 10
  • Green-winged Teal – 8
  • Ring-necked Duck – 10, a first for me.
  • Osprey – 1, first of the year.
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 3
  • American Kestrel – 1
  • Killdeer – 12, highest number ever observed on the preserve at one time.
  • Wilson's Snipe – 9, highest number ever observed on the preserve at one time.
  • Ring-billed Gull – 8
  • Herring Gull – 1
  • Mourning Dove – 3
  • Belted Kingfisher – 1
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 3
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • Eastern Phoebe – 1, first of the year.
  • Blue Jay – 3
  • American Crow – approximately 30
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 20
  • Carolina Chickadee – 4
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 4, heard only.
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 15
  • American Robin – 7
  • Northern Mockingbird – 1
  • European Starling – approximately 20
  • Eastern Towhee – 5, heard only.
  • Song Sparrow – 5
  • Dark-eyed Junco – approximately 25
  • Northern Cardinal – approximately 10
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 15
  • House Finch – 3
  • American Goldfinch – 5

The Snow that Just Won't Go

I'll be honest. This has been a long and cold winter. Yesterday when William woke up and looked out the window he said in a weary and exhausted tone "God damn this snow." Now, Mary and I don't condone the kids use of cursing around us, but in this instance, William simply beat us to the punch. So, you know it has been a long winter when a 13 year old boy thinks such a thing about snow on the morning of the first school day of the week. 

The nice, nearly spring like day that we had on Saturday is now nothing more than a fading memory. It seems like it will never end. Hopefully this current cold snap that we are in will be short lived and we will be on to blooming flowers and buzzing bees soon. 

As for the kids, the winter took its toll on their spring break. All the snow days have whittled it down to just one day. I don't think they will have their school year extended at this point but we are not quite sure. 

For this area I can recall a few individual snow storms where we got some incredible accumulations. My first winter here in 1981-82, we had a blizzard with around 24-30 inches in one storm. But a week or so later, it was all melted away. I can't recall any winter where we have had snow on the ground for so long. If I recall correctly, we have had some snow around (as in not completely melted) since Thanksgiving. I am certain we have had it since December 20th when I returned from Maryland. 

Check out some of the photos from this snowy winter here

Let the Season Begin!

This past Wednesday I observed a sure sign of spring at the Stroud Preserve when 8 Tree Swallows were noted flying over the Brandywine River. Yesterday another sign of spring was observed as Steve, Paddy and me donned blue apparel and started our annual migration to PPL Park in Chester PA for opening day for the Philadelphia Union. As luck would have it it was a beautiful day with a temperature approaching 60! 

This marks a big year for us, we got Paddy his own season ticket this year. Seat 6, in Row J, in Section 101 is his. He is now a full member of the 4S club (The Sorry Suckers Soccer Supporters) which is a SOB subgroup (Son's of Ben). 

The Union actually started their season last weekend in Portland where they play to a draw with the Timbers. It was a pretty exciting game as the Timbers tied it up with a goal in the last 30 seconds of the game. It wasn't a win for the Union, but more importantly, it wasn't a loss. Yesterday's game was squarely in the win column with a 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution. So we appear to be off to a good start! 

Also, back on March 4th, the Union had a "Meet the Team" event that was open to the public, however, season ticket holders got to go in first. Paddy and I went and were lucky enough to be the first season ticket holders in that they let in. This was awesome as we got to walk around and talk to all the players that we see out on the field. Check out photos of Paddy with all his favorite players as well as a few picture from opening day here

 

The Stroud Preserve, 12 March 2014

After getting the kids off to school I looked at the clock this morning and determined I could get about an one hour walk in at the Stroud Preserve before I headed off to work. The first bird I saw as I pulled into the parking lot was a male American Kestrel. They are always nice to see. At the large field to the north just after the bridge over the Brandy Wine were approximately 25 Mallards, 12 Green-wing Teals, and 3 male Northern Pintails in a wet depression in the middle of the field. The teal and pintails are very uncommon at the preserve. Scanning a little further back I could easily see 15 or so Canada Geese scattered about. What was more difficult to see against the white back ground of snow that was still there was a immature Tundra Swan! A first for me at the preserve!

The other spectacle was a giant flock of blackbirds. My best guess at the number of birds was between 75,000 and 100,000. This flock was foraging in the open fields on the west end of the preserve. I spent about 20 minutes looking it over. Much to my surprise it was nearly all Red-winged Blackbirds. In all I could only find about 20 Common Grackles and about 25 European Starlings. Large portions of the flock took to the air and flew a short distance to land in another section of the field. When it did I kept an eye out for other species like Yellow-headed Blackbird, but could find nothing. Still, seeing such a large group of living organisms is a pretty awesome thing.

For such a short walk, and one where I kept up a decent clip, I saw many interesting things. I was so rushed that I completely forgot to take a photo for the blog header. The best part of the walk was on the way back to my car. As the sun came out and the temperature hit 50° a total 8 Tree Swallows flew over head. Regardless of the spring equinox, I always consider my first Tree Swallows the first day of spring. May the thaw begin!

 

Start time: 10:30

End time: 11:38

Temp: 48°- 50°F

Wind: 5 mph from the SE

Skies: Overcast

Species Total: 32

 

  • Great Blue Heron – 1
  • Black Vulture – 1
  • Turkey Vulture – 2
  • Canada Goose – approximately 250
  • Tundra Swan – 1 immature
  • Mallard – 45
  • Northern Pintail – 3
  • Green-winged Teal – 12
  • Common Merganser – 3
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 2
  • American Kestrel – 2
  • Mourning Dove – approximately 15
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 5, heard only
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1, heard only
  • Northern Flicker – 1, heard only
  • Blue Jay – approximately 10
  • American Crow – approximately 15
  • Fish Crow – approximately 10
  • Tree Swallow – 8
  • Carolina Chickadee – 5
  • Tufted Titmouse – 2
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 2
  • Carolina Wren – 1
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 10
  • American Robin – approximately 25
  • Northern Mockingbird – 1
  • European Starling – approximately 25
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 10
  • White-throated Sparrow – 3
  • Northern Cardinal – 5
  • Red-winged Blackbird – 75,000 to 100,000!
  • Common Grackle – approximately 20

The Stroud Preserve, 2 March 2014

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Finally, after a long, long absence, I was able to visit the Stroud Preserve today. My last visit was way back on 15 October! I must admit that my motivation to get out and walk around this winter has been pretty low. I can’t remember a winter where we had snow on the ground from the first of December to at least the 2 of March. To add insult to injury, the forecast for tonight is for more of it, anywhere from 3 to 10 inches. Ugh.

I didn’t get there until 2:30 so my expectations for a long list of birds was pretty low. This is in fact, exactly what I got - twenty-one species in all. Even with this low species count there were a few surprises. I observed a single Hermit Thrush in one of the thawed out patches of grass. This is only my 12th observation of one since August 2011. I also saw 2 Killdeer in the old farm bed. This would only be the 18th time I’ve seen them on or from the preserve. I still consider both of these species to be uncommon here.

The bird of the day, though, was a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. This is only the 7th one I have recorded at the preserve. Five of the previous observations were birds flying overhead. Only one time prior have I seen one perched on an object attached to land that was within the boundaries of the preserve. Even then it was a great distance away. Today I was less than 100 feet away and had fantastic views looking down from a hill onto it. I still don’t understand why this species is seen so infrequently here. It seems to me that it would be great habitat for them. What I do see here are great numbers of Red-tailed Hawks. Perhaps it is a simple case of competition that keeps their numbers low.

One of the main reasons I decided to head out today was that I wanted to check the Red-tailed Hawk nest from last year to see if it had a Great Horned Owl on it. The nest site is on the north end of the preserve not far from the failed owl nest from last year. However, the loop trail that goes past the site was quite the difficult trek. So, I opted to bird from the main road that runs through the preserve. I’ll wait until some of the snow melts before I try that again. Here is the rundown of my very short list of birds.

 

Start time: 2:33

End time: 3:54

Temp: 37

Wind: None

Skies: Overcast

Species Total: 21

 

  • Turkey Vulture – 4
  • Canada Goose – 50
  • Mallard – 25
  • Red-shouldered Hawk – 1 immature
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 3, 2 adults, 1 immature
  • Killdeer – 2
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 3
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • Hairy Woodpecker – 3
  • Northern Flicker – heard only
  • Pileated Woodpecker – heard only
  • Blue Jay – 4
  • American Crow – 8
  • Fish Crow – 5
  • Eastern Bluebird – 2
  • Hermit Thrush – 1
  • American Robin – 20
  • Northern Mockingbird – 1
  • Song Sparrow – 1
  • Northern Cardinal – 1
  • Common Grackle – 25

A little catching up with family matters

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It has been a while since I have had a chance to update the blog. The last time that I posted an update was way back on 4 November! Since then we have had three holidays and two birthdays pass. The puppy is almost grown into a full size dog, The kids are halfway through their school year, oh, and so is Mary. Most importantly I am finally finished with my training in Maryland and back with Mary and the kids.

Our graduation was on 19 December. Mary and the kids, along with Mary's dad, came to Frederick to see me get my badge and be sworn in. It was a long haul. I headed down to for the training on 9 September. We had a three week interruption with the furlough that drug thing out longer than needed. I didn't get any break from work however. On Monday the 23rd, I was back at work at the airport. I got Christmas day off, but that is about it. From here on out, holidays and weekends will be a foreign concept for me. One lucky thing is that our port does not function around the clock. The first shifts start at 5:00 AM and end around 10:00PM. Eventually, I'll get a shift that is a regular reoccurring schedule, but for the next 6 months or so, they will bounce around every two weeks. I greatly enjoy the work and I'm very grateful to have found a job that fits my knowledge base and career path so well. 

Mary is still teaching middle school boys. We are not sure how she tolerates such a thing but she seems to do it quite well. Paddy and William have started taking guitar lessons. Which they seem to enjoy...sometimes. It seems that Paddy has some issues with practicing. That said it does seem as if soccer is the sport that Paddy will pursue. He has been taking indoor winter soccer skills clinics at the YMCA. These clinics are taught by Paddy's coach and our good friend Dave.

Emily has decided to take a break from fencing for a while to focus on school. She has a very challenging english class that takes more time that she would like, however, she really likes the class, so that works out okay. Emily's hair color seems to vary quite a bit. Currently it is blue. 

Check out photos from the last couple of months here. Also, check out photos of me and my classmates from Frederick here. As always, it would be good to hear from you and what is going on in your neck of the woods. 

Frederick Finale

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At long last, our time in Frederick is done and we now spread back to literally every corner of the United States. I was very impressed by the diversity of our class. I thought that would be one of the things that I would miss in leaving. But to be honest, our class was a true reflection of our work force in general. The port of Philadelphia has just as many great and wonderful people to get to know and learn from. We often hear that our employer has many faults, but hiring people with diverse backgrounds and ethnicities isn't one of them. That said, I already miss the many friends that I made over the last three months. I do hope that I see all of my classmates again at some point in the future. I'm constantly looking for excuses to visit every corner of the country, I can now pile on a very good one. 

I've posted a potpourri of photos from the last five or six weeks we were there (playing pool, creepiest, BBQfest, lunch with MD, graduation, etc.). Check them out here

Happy New Year and best wishes to you all! 

Russell

Sugarloaf Mountain Natural Area, Maryland

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[Note: Jake and I made this trip back on 11 November 2013. I wrote this up but never posted it to the blog until 30 December 2013]

Jake and I paid a visit to the Sugarloaf Mountain Natural Area today. Like many of the natural features of the area it played an important role in the Civil War. The mountain is a small mountain that is isolated and to the east of the Appalachian Mountain chain. It rises only 800 feet above the surrounding area but that is enough to make for an excellent lookout (the photo above is looking east towards Washington and Baltimore). On 5 September 1862 the small unit of Union soldiers station there as a lookout spotted Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia crossing the Potomac River to the southwest. 

While that is all very interesting, Jake and I, being astute biologist noted that it was a sunny day and leaving the hotel for a few hours was probably in the best interest of our mental health. I looked at a map, noticed a large green patch that was less than half an hour away and then we were off!

When we got there we noticed that not much was green. Falling back on our advanced degrees we determined that the primary reason nothing was green was the fact it was now early winter and most trees drop their leaves and are simply not green. However, we did discover that a few trees were in fact still green! Jake pulled out his handy Sibley Guide to the Trees of North America and we figured out that they were in fact conifers, of which we found 8 species. Check out photos of our day here

Lilypons Water Gardens, Frederick County, Maryland

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Today, at the recommendation of a fellow birder at the Professional Development Center (Thanks Larry!), I visited Lilypons Water Gardens, which lies beside of the Monocacy River and just south of Buckeystown and east of the Sugarloaf Mountain Natural Area. This spot was described to me as a commercial aquatic horticultural operation with a multitude of little ponds that attract a vast variety of birds. I first thought it was “Lilly Ponds” Water Gardens, but that would be incorrect. I thought Lilypons was a strange spelling but didn’t think about it again.

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As I walked around I found out that the location has a long history and that the spelling was for a specific reason. At the store located on the site I saw a plaque on the wall by the entrance. “Lily Pons,” post office, and Metropolitan Opera Singer made absolutely no sense to me. When I got back to my room I used the modern investigative tool, Google, dig up some history on the place.

The Lilypons Water Gardens is a family owned business that was started in 1917. It started out as Three Springs Fisheries specializing in goldfish and water lilies. In 1930 it started doing business by mail order. By 1935 the mail orders were so numerous that the US Postal Service decided to establish a post office on site. What to name this new post office? Well, as it turns out, the owner was a huge opera fan and his favorite singer and most popular singer of the day was, you guessed it, Lily Pons. Perfect, except that the post office requested that the name of the new office be one word. The post office ceased operations there in 1966 and in 1975 Three Springs Fisheries became Lilypons Water Gardens located in Adamstown, MD 21710. Who knew? Read the full history on the company website here.

As for birds, it seemed relatively quiet. There were a number of Rusty Blackbirds which are always a pleasure to see. The most numerous group of birds were sparrows, however, species diversity was pretty low with only Song, Swamp, and White-throated present. With all that aquatic vegetation I was hopeful that a Nelson’s or LeConte’s Sparrow would have popped out somewhere, but they didn’t. I was surprised to see three species of wrens, Carolina, Winter, and Marsh.

There were as many as 5 Red-shouldered Hawks in area with possibly as many as 7 or 8, which is a little puzzling to me. When I moved back to the east coast I assumed Red-shouldered Hawks would be one of the more common raptors around West Chester. However, in the two years that I have been birding at the Stroud Preserve, which is very similar in habitat and general appearance, I have only seen single Red-shouldered Hawks on eight occasions.

The last notable flying organism had scales instead of feathers. At 10:00 with a temperature of approximately 38º I saw two sulphur butterflies. It seemed a little on the cold side for butterflies to be flying!

Start time: 7:30

End time: 11:00

Temp: 28-45º

Wind: 0-9 mph from the north

Skies: clear

Species Total: 44

  • Great Blue Heron – at least 6
  • Great Egret – 1
  • Black Vulture – 5
  • Turkey Vulture – 14
  • Canada Goose – approximately 50
  • Wood Duck – 4
  • Mallard – 7
  • Green-winged Teal – 5
  • Hooded Merganser – 1
  • Bald Eagle – 1, immature
  • Red-shouldered Hawk – at least 5
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 3, 1 adult, 2 immatures
  • American Kestrel – 1 male
  • Wilson's Snipe – 8
  • Rock Dove – 2
  • Mourning Dove – 1
  • Belted Kingfisher – 4
  • Downy Woodpecker – 5
  • Hairy Woodpecker – 1
  • Northern Flicker – 3
  • Pileated Woodpecker – 1
  • Blue Jay – 4, heard only
  • American Crow – approximately 25
  • Carolina Chickadee – approximately 20
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 1, heard only
  • Carolina Wren – approximately 15
  • Winter Wren – 1
  • Marsh Wren – 2
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet – approximately 10
  • Eastern Bluebird – 6
  • American Robin – 2
  • Northern Mockingbird – 5
  • European Starling – approximately 15
  • Cedar Waxwing – approximately 30
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – 2
  • Eastern Towhee – 1, heard only
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 100
  • Swamp Sparrow – approximately 25
  • White-throated Sparrow – approximately 25
  • Dark-eyed Junco – approximately 10
  • Northern Cardinal – approximately 10
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 15
  • Rusty Blackbird – approximately 25
  • American Goldfinch – approximately 15

 

Harper's Ferry

This past weekend me and few of my classmates here in Frederick took a break from studying and went for a visit to Harpers Ferry. Most people might recall Harpers Ferry as the location where the abolitionist John Brown made his attack against the federal armory. Harpers Ferry was also a highly valued strategic geographic point by both the Union and Confederate forces in the American Civil War, changing hands several times during the corse of the war. After the war, the economy never really returned to the small town at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and as a result left the area frozen in time. 

What is there today is a great example of what a small town in the mid 19th Century would have looked like. Nearly the whole of the downtown and the surrounding area covering the states of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland is now a National Historic Park

On our part, we couldn't have picked a finer fall day for a visit. My roommate Jake, along with Heather, Steven, and Rubin spent the day there taking in the sights. We also got our daily dose of exercise as the walk from the main parking area to downtown then across and up to Maryland Heights was quite the workout! 

I did discover a link to my personal family history while I was there. I noticed that the Confederate General that commanded the troops in the battle of Maryland Heights in 1862 was General Joseph B. Kershaw from South Carolina. Since my family is from the Kershaw and Lancaster County area, I wondered if my ancestor William Joseph Flectcher (my grand father's great grandfather) might have been apart of this battle.  

Knowing that he was sharp shooter in the Flat Rock Guard, Company G, of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers it didn't take very long to find out that he probably did fight in that battle (As a side note, the company was also present at the battle of Antietam, Cold Harbor, Chickamauga, and Gettysburg, and many others). I also found a map of troop movements before and after the battle of Maryland Heights that show that he most likely marched right through Frederick and the streets that I now ride my bike to work upon. The Flat Rock Guard was apparently a rough and tumble group of soldiers. One of it's members "cut and wore a pair of cuff buttons from a fragment of his own skull." Yikes! 

Skull jewelry aside, I recommend that if you ever get the chance to visit Harpers Ferry. It's rich history and natural beauty are well worth the effort. Check out a mix of photos taken by Jake and I here and at Stephen's photo stream here.

Russell

Finished with Furloughs

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I never posted an update about my furlough status but like all other federal employees, I went back to work once congress got it's act together and passed a budget. Because I was in the middle of job training, getting me and my classmates back to Frederick Maryland was a little more complicated and it took about another full week to get back into the swing of things. 

In short, I headed back to Frederick on 21 October and have been studying government stuff ever since. In case you were wondering, being furloughed generally sucks. I should clear up any misconception that being furloughed is like an awesome paid vacation. It is not. What it is like is being let go from work with no income coming down the pike and nothing but uncertainty ahead of you. Plus, as you can see from the photo above, I didn't quite get the vacation of my dreams. I won't rant on about it all but legislators that use federal employees and citizens that depend on those federal employees as pawns in their political games really should be dealt with severely at the ballot box.  

What you do when you are furloughed is try to make the best of things. I enjoyed being with my family and tried not to worry to much about the future. And to that end, I did get to see Mary the kids off to school in the mornings, and cook diners for them in the evenings. I am pretty happy that the furlough at least corresponded with the final   games of the Philadelphia Union's season. I certainly enjoyed going to all the games this year with Steve and Paddy. I also managed to take care of a bunch of things around the house that I couldn't do while I was a way. That said I was pretty have to get back to the training center and moving on with my new career. Here are some photos of various and sundry things that went on while I was home. Also there are a few photos from Halloween.