Monday, November 30, 2009

Farewell 2009 Hurricane Season

Today marks the end of the disappointing 2009 hurricane season. In a May 21, 2009 news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we were told that "Forecasters say there is a 70 percent chance of having nine to 14 named storms, of which four to seven could become hurricanes, including one to three major hurricanes (Category 3 4 or 5)."

NOAA was correct on the 70 percent chance of nine to 14 named storms because that's what we had this year - nine named storms. They were also correct with the one to three major storms. Unfortunately for the beaches of the United States that sorely need a little less development on them, none of the major storms (and damned few of any storms) did any appreciable damage to anything. Maybe 2010 will be a better season? There's always "next year" to look forward to for the great undeveloper hurricane to come along and liberate the nation's coast.

As I write this just before midnight on the last day of the season a storm in northern Mexico is predicted to move east into the Gulf of Mexico and eventually create some potential havoc on the central and northern Florida coasts. It will be too little too late when it moves through here, but the National Weather Service is saying there is a potential for strong storms with tornadoes and waterspouts. So, Wednesday and Thursday I'll be out on the beach watching for waterspouts - as Buffett suggests in his song "Tryin to Reason With Hurricane Season". The title of that song just happens to be my personalized license plate as well.

And speaking of that great song, here's Jimmy performing it live. Hopefully this will help you deal with the lack of a hurricane season for the next six months - I already know it will help me.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Letter to the Grim Reaper

Dear Grim Reaper,

So far this year you have taken away my favorite dancer and entertainer Michael Jackson, my favorite actor Patrick Swayze, and my favorite actress Farrah Fawcett.

Just so you know, my favorite politician is Sarah Palin. >:-}

Thank you

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Kid in Town

Yesterday while bicycling north on Tuttle Avenue I passed by venerable Ed Smith Stadium the former home of my hapless Sarasota Reds.

At the southeast corner of the stadium property there used to be an old sign announcing that Ed Smith was the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds. Yesterday it has been replaced by the one above for the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles are making a change in their spring training venue moving from crime ridden and just-not-very-nice Fort Lauderdale to beautiful Sarasota. I never felt much kinship for the Cincinnati Reds when they were still here last year. I attended a couple games but my heart just wasn't in it. I've not really had much interest in the Reds since Pete Rose stopped playing a very long time ago.

On the other hand the Baltimore Orioles are an entirely different story. Until the Nationals moved to Washington DC a few years ago, the Orioles were the only baseball team nearby. I remember many times the Fish and Wildlife Service arranging buses to take fans up to Camden Yards for night games and I made more than a few of those treks. Back in those days Cal Ripken was the huge draw of the Orioles and for the most part he still is today - even though he's no longer playing.

Despite it being almost Thanksgiving Day, the Orioles still have zero information posted on their website about the 2010 spring training schedule and about ticket information.

Regardless, it will be great having a team that I already like here in town for spring training. I'm already fantasizing about sitting in Section 14, Row A, Seat 1 directly behind home plate and heckling whomever the Orioles play.

Rumor has it that Cal Ripken and the Cal Ripken Foundation have some things in the works to bring a Class A team of the Orioles to Sarasota for the minor league season. I certainly hope so because I don't know what I would do if I didn't have a minor league team to root for and more importantly if I didn't have 11 other teams that I can again heckle all summer long.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Blind Side

Run - don't walk but run - to the nearest theater playing the new movie "The Blind Side" starring Sandra Bullock. Just exit out of this blog post right now and go....come back later and read the rest of what I wrote about it. OK?

Last night Ty and I went to the 7:40 showing of The Blind Side at the Hollywood 20 theaters in downtown Sarasota. I had seen advertisements for the movie in the last couple of weeks and it looked like it was going to be a good film. Anything with Sandra Bullock in it has to be. However we weren't prepared for what an emotionally wrenching and emotionally uplifting movie this is. Quite frankly if Sandra Bullock isn't at least nominated for an Oscar for her performance then something is horribly wrong with the way Oscar nominations are made.

You can view trailers for the movie here and here. And you can watch a review of the movie by someone from the Los Angeles Times here.

This synopsis of the movie is lifted from
"The Blind Side" depicts the remarkable true story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American youngster from a broken home, taken in by the Touhys, a well-to-do white family who help him fulfill his potential. At the same time, Oher's presence in the Touhys' lives leads them to some insightful self-discoveries of their own. Living in his new environment, the teen faces a completely different set of challenges to overcome. As a football player and student, Oher works hard and, with the help of his coaches and adopted family, becomes an All-American offensive left tackle. In the latest chapter of his inspiring story, Oher was a First Round draft pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, selected by the Baltimore Ravens. The Touhys were there to share the moment with him.
We watched the movie to a packed house - there wasn't an empty seat in the theater. There also wasn't a dry eye there either. Its just simply the best movie you are going to see for a very long time. If you liked "Remember the Titans" you are going to love this film.

Watching it I remembered the day in 1989 when I went to board a Metro bus in downtown Washington DC. There, standing in line ahead of me waiting to board was a young woman with Downs Syndrome. The myopic bus driver wouldn't allow her to board because, as he verbalized, "of the way she is." This was like waving a red flag in front of a bull and I instantly darted by the lady, jumped on the bus, looked down at the driver and said as forcefully as possible "you let this person on this bus RIGHT NOW or I'll have the American Civil Liberties Union down your throat so fast you'll think you were born with them there." The bus driver let the lady on the bus.

Go watch "The Blind Side" and if at times you don't feel like I did for that lady on a bus in Washington DC, then you didn't get the point of the movie.

Now, go right now. ...right now. You have no excuse. Got it?

UPDATE: I returned to the same theater on Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I was there for the 1:55 p.m. showing. There were no empty seats in the middle of the afternoon and the movie was even better this second time around. Go see it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Horny Great Horned Owls

It's that time of year again!

Friday morning at 3:00 a.m.. and this morning at 4:30 a.m. I was serenaded awake (jolted awake?) by a pair of Great Horned Owls duet calling to each other just outside my lanai. I was sleeping on the floor of my living room directly in front of the lanai when they started calling to each other. I walked out onto the lanai and found them perched in a large pine tree not 100 feet from the edge of my home. Pretty cool!

If you go to this link you can hear an excellent example of a pair of a duetting pair of Great Horned Owls. The site seems to be a bit anthropomorphic and the announcer a tad too dramatic but the voices of the duetting birds are exactly as I heard them this morning.

The Florida Breeding Bird Atlas states that Great Horned Owls begin laying eggs as early as December so the birds outside my window are right on schedule for their courtship singing. I just wish they would do it a tad earlier in the evening, like at sunset, when I'm not trying to sleep.

The fact that Great Horned Owls are singing this early is a result of geography. In Kansas they are known to start nesting as early as January. In a book on the Breeding Birds of the Platte River Valley that Gary Lingle and I wrote long ago, we reported that the earliest date for active Great Horned Owls at the latitude of central Nebraska was February 21. And in my natal Wisconsin Great Horned Owls usually weren't actively sitting on eggs in a nest until the first week of March.

I would imagine that the resident Great Horned Owls here are nesting now so they can take advantage of the colder winter weather. With an incubation period of 28 days and an additional 35 days in the nest until the young fledge, eggs laid in mid-December would hatch in mid-January and the young would be out of the nest by late February. This would provide a nice buffer of about two months before the temperatures get hotter. Try to imagine a female Great Horned Owl sitting on eggs in a nest at the top of a tree in late April during the blazing south Florida sun, and you get an idea of why they nest when its cool outside.

I remember well in 1975 climbing to a Great Horned Owl nest in a forest in Pierce County Wisconsin not far from where I went to college. A fellow student had found the nest with two chicks in it and I wanted to band them. The nest was about 70 feet up in a sturdy white pine tree. The day before my attempt to band these young birds, Dave Evans who has been banding hawks and owls at Hawk Ridge in Duluth Minnesota since the late 1960s warned me to make certain I was wearing a football helmet when I climbed to the nest. I asked him why and Dave said "Just wear the damned thing."

The next day I climbed 70 feet up in this 100 foot tall white pine tree. When I first put my climbing spikes in the bark of the lower part of the tree I saw the female flush from the nest and then sit on a branch not far away. As I climbed higher in the tree I could hear the young start to get vocal and the adult was calling to them. Just as I poked my head up over the side of the nest and was eye level with the young, my then-wife Ruth yelled from below "Watch out!" It was then that I felt a tremendous collision of something on the back of my head. Ruth told me later that she watched the adult owl as it flew from its perch, clenched its talons together, and then hit me on the back of the head with both feet curled up like fists. I immediately understood why Dave Evans said to wear the football helmet, and I never climbed to a another Great Horned Owl nest after that night.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Buffett CD To Be Released December 8

Jimmy Buffett's latest CD, one that actually includes new music instead of the string of "Jimmy Buffett Live At _______(fill in the blank)" that have dominated in recent years will be released on December 8. You can pre-order your copy at this link.

The new CD contains 12 new songs including three that were prominent during this year's "Summerzcool" tour. The song list is below:

Nobody From Nowhere
Big Top
Beautiful Swimmers
Turn Up The Heat and Chill The Rose
Rhumba Man
We Learned To Be Cool From You
Surfing In a Hurricane
Life Short Call Now
Buffet Hotel
A Lot To Drink About

So, if you are looking for a stocking stuffer for that favorite Parrothead of yours, I can't think of a more appropriate one than this CD. Like all of his other music, this one is certain to be a smashing success.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Toes in the Water

My friend John Spinks turned me on to this song by the Zac Brown Band titled "Toes in the Water."

I'm not sure if this is tropical rock or country western. The mention of Georgia makes me think the latter. Regardless, this is a damned good coastal Florida drinking song!


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks

Every morning at about one-half hour before sunrise until the sun is up, and in the evening from one-half hour before sunset until just after dark, flocks of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks pass over my home. Most of the groups are 10-15 individuals with a group of 35 the largest I have seen. Probably about 200 of these unique ducks pass over me twice each day.

This species gets its name from two rather obvious characteristics. First is the black abdomen and second is its whistled voice. You can hear its voice at this link.

The range of this tropical duck extends from Argentina north to the southernmost portions of the United States, primarily Arizona, Texas and Florida. You can learn more about their biology at this link. This duck is also well known for its long-distance vagrancy that includes records from North Dakota (which I didn't see). My records include birds in Maryland, Missouri and Virginia that are north of where the species should usually be found. My southernmost record is a group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks seen in Misiones Province, Argentina on September 5, 2002. These birds were in a huge area known as the Ibera wetlands near the Paraguay border.

The Florida Breeding Bird Atlas shows the distribution of this species in the state as being highly concentrated in west-central counties surrounding and adjacent to Tampa Bay. The map shows no confirmed breeding records for Sarasota County. That is simply an artifact of the dates when these data were collected. Just a couple weeks ago on October 20, 2009, I found a family group made up of 2 adults and 5 nearly fledged young at the Celery Fields wetlands southeast of Sarasota.

Regardless this is one very unique and interesting not to mention beautiful species of waterfowl. I'm quite fortunate to be able to sit on my lanai at sunrise and sunset and watch them fly to and from where ever they go. I'm certain the birds are traveling to the Cooper Creek Park about 1/2 mile southeast of me in the evening. Where they go in the morning is a mystery. Their flight path takes them northwest of my home to somewhere but as much searching as I have done in Sarasota and Manatee Counties I have only seen this bird here, at Cooper Creek and the Celery Fields. I guess this is just one more little mystery to solve in retirement.

Color-Banded Red Knots on Lido Key

Yesterday I found a group of about 100 Red Knot on the beach at the south end of Lido Key. Among the birds were at least 9 that carried colored leg bands. The wind was blowing so intensely that sand got into my binoculars! so I didn't take the time to read the numbers on the tags. I was able to record the color-band combinations and will report them to the Bird Banding Laboratory to learn where the banded birds originated.

This picture, pirated from the Cape Romain Bird Observatory in South Carolina, illustrates the kind of color band(s) I encountered.

The population status of this species seems to be inexorably tied to the horseshoe crab and its yearly spawning activities on Delaware Bay where almost all of the eastern population of Red Knot stages during spring migration each year. As the horseshoe crab goes so goes the Red Knot. You can learn more about the biology of Red Knot at this website.