April 27, 2006

My new look!

Okay everyone, here it is... my new summer look!

Yup, I lost the curls and went blonde. Not really sure why. But I guess there comes a time for every man when he realizes there's more to life than mere masses of brown hairiness and he turns his gaze towards the bleached horizon. I guess I just got bored.

Here's a couple shots of the process...

We ran out of dye the first time around so here I am in a sort of golden-piebald stage. Anyway, thought you all might like a sneak peek at the new me. So far the response has been, well, less than positive you might say. But don't worry, I'm sure it won't last long. See you later.

April 24, 2006

Meet Betty Beaver...

Hello everyone. Last weekend Sarah and I drove out to visit our friend Heather who's going to school at Tufts, near Boston. It was a long day of driving but great to spend some time together and reunite Anheathrah for a couple of hours anyway. However, we met another very special friend along the way. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Betty Beaver...

Yeah... um, I'm not really sure what to say about this. But just in case the situation needs any clarification, here's another picture of Miss Beaver that accentuates her, um... assests shall we say.

I'm pretty sure this is the most disturbing gas-station logo I've ever seen. Didn't know a large, voluptuous, patriotic rodent could make me feel quite so uncomfortable. She's like a distinctly non-human Hooters waitress. Chatter the Chipmunk's estranged cousin or maybe Smoky the Bear's swanky significant other. I can just picture the guys who came up with this. A couple of self-educated Xena experts in their mid-thirties, sitting around in one of their parent's cellars eating bags of potato chips and playing video games...

"Hey man, we should like totally open a gas station."

"Great idea man, but how are we going to score us some chicks?"

"How about we call it 'Betty Beavers'? Chicks will totally dig the clever word play."

"Yeah, that'd be awesome. And our mascot could be this wicked hot beaver-chick with giant boobs. That'd be so cool."

Yikes... Now I'm seriously creeped out. But if you guys are ever in the Fultonville area (just off the Thruway, one exit west of Amsterdam), you might want to pay ol' Betty a visit. It'll give you a whole new perspective on what it means to be a mammal. Finally, as if our lipstick-wearing, 3-D enhanced, flag-enrobed, hose-holding, DDD-endowed friend wasn't enough, she left us with this insightful slogan...

Take a moment to let that sink in, and then remember that there are still plenty of good reasons not to immediately kill yourself. Really, there are...

April 18, 2006

Music: Altronica... Volume 3

Like Volumes 1 and 2, Altronica 3 is a collection of my favorite tunes from the realms of Alternative, Electronic, Contemporary Acoustic and Pop-Rock. All of the songs are available on iTunes and I tried to get them in a decent order. Surprisingly, missing from the list are two of my favorite bands: Death Cab for Cutie and Coldplay. Sorry fellas, next time I guess. Here are some short descriptions to give you an idea of what I like about each song:

Bodyrockers - I Like The Way (Radio Edit)
Get things off to a good start with this Diet Coke commercial song. This is a great tune for jumping around, playing air guitar, making a fool of yourself.
Sarah McLachlan
- Witness
Beautiful, as always. This is an older song from her album "Surfacing." Great voice, great guitar solo, great production.
Tally Hall - Greener
This is the greatest band! Seriously, I'm nuts about these guys (see my post from a couple weeks ago).
The Weepies - World Spins Madly On
The band might not be very noticeable but this is one of the sweetest songs I've heard in a long time. Puts me in a very reflective mood. "Thought of you... and how you're gone..."
Persephone's Bees - Nice Day (Album Version)
Cool tune, that's about it.
Rilo Kiley - American Wife (Non-album Track)
Oooh, Jenny Lewis sure can pull off some serious sarcasm. Makes me squirm but I love every minute.
KT Tunstall
- Suddenly I See
Very radio-worthy track from Scotland's take on a classy, guitar playing version of Kelly Clarkson.
The Flaming Lips - The Spark That Bled
Classic Lips... not really sure what Wayne's singing about but that's what makes it so meaningful.
Frou Frou - Flicks
This band features Imogen Heap, the soulful, skillful singer who's electronically harmonious "Hide and Seek" is still one of my favorite songs of all time.
- Strange And Beautiful (I'll Put A Spell On You)
Sounds like Coldplay's kid brother but it's still pretty nice stuff.
Nickel Creek
- Somebody More Like You
Off their latest album "Why Should The Fire Die?" This is Nickel Creek at their popiest but they still manage fantastic musicianship, a creative arrangment and beautiful harmonies.
dZihan & Kamien - Slowhand Hussein
"Freaks and Idols" will always be one of my favorite electronic/techno/acid-jazz CDs. These guys know how to lay down a groove.
- Out Here All Night
Loud, fast, angry... not usually my cup of tea but for some reason I just liked this tune.
- Kids With Guns
Certainly one of the most unique Alternative bands around. I like the bass line. "Dah, dah dah... dah, dah."
Tally Hall - The Bidding
I'm not kidding about this band, I really like them!
Trespassers William - Different Stars
This song hits a sweet spot for me right between dreamy and mellow; lonely and detached. Very cool, great vocals.
Iron & Wine
- The Trapeze Swinger
This nine-minute masterpiece is a wonderful example of Sam Beam's elegant poetry and subtle instrumentation. It's easy (and very enjoyable) to get lost in his weaving, rolling, whispered lyrics and layers of guitars, light percussion and ocassional piano.

April 13, 2006

Reflections on the Dietary Habits of Noah VanNorstrand

While on the road in Lone Star State we had the opportunity to sample a variety of foodular substances. Now I've been adorning my pallet with sun-dried tomatoes, chicken tandoori and BBQ sauce for many a moon, but my brother Noah on the other hand is rather new to the ocean of flavorisities that await beyond the door of the nearest Wendy's. So I took it upon myself to compile this short "blogumentary" if you will, of Noah's recent, distinctly non-cheeseburgeresque meals. Warning: the following material contains graphic and disturbing images of food being eaten by a teenager. Viewer discretion is advised.

Here we see Noah enjoying an oyster sandwich in a restaurant at Fulton Harbor. Yeah, sounds pretty gross to me too.

This picture really captures the passion with which Noah attacked his Chicken Quesadillas at this small Tex-Mex joint in Kingsville. It was a moving performance.

A dignified portrait of our subject, nobly devouring his Grilled Chicken Sandwich and Clam Chowder. This meal was specially prepared by the renowned kitchen of... the Cabela's Outfitters Superstore in Budda. Huh?

Nothing like a good ol' BBQ joint in Austin to make Noah's tummy happy. Actually Noah hates BBQ. I think he just drank as much ketchup as he could to drowned out the taste.

This San Antonian ice cream bar offered Noah a tasty reward after a long hard day of sitting in the car. It was some sort of vanilla, chocolate, fudge type thing... very delectable I'm sure.

And finally, what better way to wash all of this down than with an ice cold, frothing glass of... um, apple... juice.
Yeah... Noah loves his apple juice.
And so concludes our tour of my dear brother's dietary habits. I hope it has been as enlightening for you as it has been for me.
Now if we can only get him to try some variety in headware...

April 12, 2006

Birds: Texas, Part II

Okay, after we got back from our boat tour with Captain Tommy, we realized that Mom and Dave had left to do some site seeing and that Noah and I were pretty much stranded at the hotel for the next few hours so we signed up for an afternoon inland tour to Fennessey Ranch (on the ride over we saw the beautiful Black-necked Stilt pictured above). Our guides were Nan Dietert and Lyndon Holcomb. They were fantastic birders and knew the ranch inside and out. They drove us around in an old converted school bus, designed specifically for birding. The beginning of our trip was a little slow. At our first stop there was a small flock of White-faced Ibis along with some shorebirds, gradually building our day list. We then headed inland where we had White-eyed Vireo and great looks at more Caracaras. Managed to get decent albeit brief looks at a female Pyrrhuloxia. Then, while Nan was scoping a Mottled Duck all the birds on the pond took off because two Harris's Hawks came in low over the trees. Later on we were at an overlook near the river hoping for Least Grebe when I noticed a tiny, green and white bird flying down towards us maybe a couple inches above the water. It was a Green Kingfisher, carrying a small fish it had just caught. That was one of the most memorable moments for me. Also had White-tipped Dove here calling in this vicinity. We had brief looks at several Green Jays although I'd still like to see that bird better. Towards the later part of the afternoon we came to another larger, more marshy pond where there was a nice assortment of waterfowl including Cinnamon Teal, Mottled Duck and three Least Grebes. I first found a pair of Grebes that I was pretty sure were Least just based on shape and proportions (they were unfortunately silhouetted at that point). Nan confirmed that they were when a couple of Pied-billeds swam into the same field of view. They were almost twice the size! Shortly after I located a third bird in better light. I think that may have been the official cutest bird I have ever seen. Waders in the area included Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill. We saw a couple armadillos on our trip, they were pretty cool. After saying goodbye to Nan and Lyndon we finally had good looks at Loggerhead Shrike along a telephone wire. On the way back to the hotel mom saw a bobcat on the side of the road and a little later we almost hit a huge wild pig. It was a pretty incredible day. All told we had well over 100 species in about 12 hours of straight birding. Things quieted down a bit after that. On Thursday we headed farther south to Kingsville but there wasn't much of an opportunity to bird. Did have Couch's Kingbird finally, perched on a wire. We were fairly sure of ID when he glided down and gave us a nice view of the olive-brown, un-notched tail and sealed the deal. In San Antonio we had great looks at Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and Cave Swallow right along the river walk in downtown. Our last day, Saturday, was the only day we couldn't find a life bird, although we did have good looks at near breeding plumage Eared Grebe at Hornsby Bend. While I still need to go over my list thoroughly, my initial count is 51 Life Birds for the trip, bringing my North American Life List up to 333 (pretty cool, huh?)! It was without a doubt one of the greatest weeks of my life and I don't think I'll ever forget it.
PS: As a disclaimer, almost all of the bird photos I shot in Texas were with my digital camera through my binoculars by just holding it up to the eyepiece. Some turned out a whole lot better than others and I can't figure out why. Any advice?

April 11, 2006

Birds: Texas, Part I

Okay, now we can get to the good stuff. I've been birding for quite a few years now and before my trip to Texas, my North American Life List was at 282. However, of those 282 only 8 were missing from my New York List. In other words, almost all my birding has been within the state and most of it within Region 5. It had been years since I'd seen large numbers of life birds. So I was really looking forward to this trip. The first few days were a bit disappointing because we were only in very developed areas. I was surprised at the number of Orange-crowned Warblers but apparently they winter in Texas. Our first good day came on Monday, April 3rd. We got up early and went out to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge where we had great looks at our target bird: Golden-cheeked Warbler. These guys are Texas specialties, only nesting in the hill country in the central part of the state. Sorry I didn't get a photo, but they're very pretty with golden-yellow faces, black backs and crowns, white bellies and wing-bars. Also at Balcones we had Bewick's Wren (identified several days later when we heard the tape) and Western Scrub-Jay which really surprised me because I didn't think we were far enough west for them. On the way there we had our first looks at Black Vulture and on the way out mom spotted a Greater Roadrunner (of which she was very proud). We had reservations that night in Port Aransas on the coast but we were all pretty sick of the highway by then so we took a smaller road from Austin to Corpus Christi. On the way had our first Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Crested Caracaras (very exciting). Just as the sun was setting I noticed a group of three White-tailed Kites flying over the road. We stayed that night in Port Aransas and the next morning Noah and I got up early and walked out to the the ocean. On the way we had nice looks at Eurasian Collared Dove and Inca Dove along the wires. It was a beautiful sunrise with flocks of Brown Pelicans; Sandwich and Royal Terns streaming overhead. We also saw Snowy Egret, Willet, Western Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover and, best of all, two Piping Plovers. Tuesday afternoon we made our way to the Rockport / Fulton area (yeah, I know... very ironic) where I had my first Reddish Egret and Roseate Spoonbill. There was even a small flock of Bronzed Cowbirds right outside our hotel! Our biggest day of birding though was definitely Wednesday. We signed up for a boat tour out to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge with Captain Tommy Moore. The goal bird here was Whooping Crane since it is still one of the rarest birds on the continent and only winters in this one location. On the way out we had a great variety of birds: American Oystercatcher and Black Skimmer, Wilson's Plover, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Seaside Sparrow, Marbled Godwit, White Ibis, American Avocet, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, American White Pelican, Neoptropic Cormorant and many others. Also got to spend some time talking with birders from California and British Columbia. Our first Whooping Cranes were very distant but during the course of the trip we saw quite a few including a couple flying and two that let the boat approach quite close. What majestic birds! Gull-billed and Least Terns were also in the area. Now, I thought the trip had gone quite well and was expecting to head back to the harbor but I began to sense something was up. A few of the better birders on board were still really excited about something and more than once I heard the expression "Think Pink." I soon found out what they were talking about...

This stunning photo is of a Greater Flamingo that has apparently been seen in the Aransas area since last fall. This bird was banded in the Yucatan so it constitutes a legitimately wild and countable bird, one of the only Texas records of this species. What an amazing and unexpected surprise! Anyway, that pretty much wraps up our boat trip. I'll finish with Texas Birds Part II.

April 10, 2006

Texas (non-birds)

Hello everyone. Well, we made it back in central New York on Saturday night, safe and sound. Went from temperatures in the 80s and 90s to the mid 30s when we got in. It was actually kind of nice in a weird and twisted sort of way. But it's good to be home. Now obviously, I have a lot of very exciting, bird-related things to post about but I'll restrain myself for now and give you a nice, generic overview of our trip.
Like so..........

Okay, here we are with Rhonda Beckman. She's the organizer for the festival we played at. We also stayed at her house over the weekend (see my previous post). We left Dallas Sunday night and headed south. On Monday morning we did some birding at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge just west of Austin. It's was certainly the hill-iest part of our trip; everywhere else we went was unbelievably flat. Our next stop was actually just south of Austin at the big Cabela's Superstore in Buda. What a wild place! I mean, I might actually want to go shopping at JC Penny if they had giant stuffed bears and elephants and stuff all over the place. The store was so big it even had an aquarium in one corner and a whole restaurant on the second story. Yeah, that was a pretty neat place but it did get a little old after about three hours. Thanks mom. But by Monday night we'd made it all the way to Port Aransas, just north of Corpus Christi. We stayed at The Tarpon Inn right near the ocean. The Inn is 120 years old and it was really nice. I couldn't get over the palm trees. Then we spent two days in the Rockport area. Lots of birding, more on that later. Everyone said we needed to go see "The Big Tree" while we were in the area so we took a quick trip up to Goose Island State Park to find out what they were talking about. Now this isn't just "a big tree." This is "THE Big Tree," a live oak that's supposedly over 1000 years old and something like 30+ feet in diameter at the trunk. It was pretty cool but the mosquitoes were so bad here we could only stand it for about 5 minutes. They all attacked us and even when we were in the car they were covering the outside of the windows. Anyway, on Thursday we went to the King Ranch in Kingsville which was founded by Captain King who was apparently more-or-less the unofficial king of south Texas. I think they said it was over 800,000 acres. Sounds cool, right? Wrong. Well, at least the part we saw was extremely boring. Our tour guide, who was very appropriately named Milton, was this really old guy with an extremely dreary, monotone voice that sucked the interest out of everything he talked about. The area was pretty much flat and brown and dusty with just a few horses and cattle. There may have been a cowboy in a cage but he wasn't moving. The temperature was in the upper 90s and to top it off, there was this kid in the back who managed to scream at a certain pitch that reverberated around the bus so loud I thought the windows would break. Kind of a long two hours. But soon we were on the final leg of our trip. Thursday night and Friday morning we spent in San Antonio which is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been to. They have this "river walk" that runs along all these canals in downtown with great big trees and shops and restaurants. It was really nice, we kind of hated to leave. But Friday night we played a contra dance in Austin and by Saturday afternoon we were on our way home. It was an amazing experience, every part of it. Okay, so there's my friendly, sociable, non-birds Texas post. See... I told you I could do it.

April 01, 2006

GBT in Dallas!

Hi everyone. I'm writing from Dallas, Texas because, well that's where I happen to be. GBT is playing for When In Doubt, Swing! and we've actually got to get back soon for the evening dance. Right now we're crashing at Rhonda Beckman's which is a pretty amazing place. Big house, big pool, big trees, lots of big stuff. It's in a big city with big buildings, big roads and big cars. The yards and lawns and landscaping in this neighborhood is incredible. Ponds and bridges and fountains. Beautiful gardens. There's even this life-sized, half naked mermaid statue in this one person's front lawn. That's just funny to me. I mean, what the heck is a mermaid supposed to be doing in Dallas, TX? There's supposedly a big party here after the dance tonight but I'm not sure how long I'll be able to stay awake. It's been a long day. Great fun but I am feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment. Everything is so green and loud and... big. I guess I said that already. So far my birding has been limited to the suburbs but I have gotten three lifers: Great-tailed Grackles (everywhere!), White-winged Dove and Carolina Chickadee. Should see more once we get out of the city. It's been pretty warm and very humid the past couple days but I'm beginning to adjust. Anyway, I going to try and get a nap in quick. Or maybe a snack. See y'all later now...