Monday, December 08, 2008

Damn Hot

We're looking to build a new sugar shack at work and that made me think about making maple syrup. When I teach my programs, I demonstrate the art of rock boiling. For rock boiling I build a fire and let igneous rocks (mostly basalt) sit in the middle for a couple of hours until they glow orange. I then transfer the rocks from the fire to a hollow log full of water to show how people boiled maple sap before they had metal buckets. The heat of the rocks transfers to the water and it goes into a furious boil. It is really cool but one of the questions I always get asked is how hot are the rocks? I knew they were over 212° F since they made the water boil and I figured they were way over 212 since if you put rocks in boiling water they don't start to glow. I tried to find a website with a reference to how hot rocks have to be before they glow but found nothing. Then I tried a new approach and found the following on a website about volcanoes.

(emphasis mine)

"By way of its color, incandescent rock gives a crude estimate of temperature. For example, orange-to-yellow colors are emitted when rocks (or melt) are hotter than about 900 degrees Celsius (1,650 degrees Fahrenheit). Dark-to-bright cherry red is characteristic as material cools to 630 degrees Celsius (1,165 degrees Fahrenheit). Faint red glow persists down to about 480 degrees Celsius (895 degrees Fahrenheit). For comparison, a pizza oven is operated at temperatures ranging from 260 to 315 degrees Celsius (500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit)."

So there you have it. Glow will persist in rocks down to 480 Celsius which means they will start to glow around there too. I've gotten them hot enough to do more than just faintly glow but a faint glow is pretty typical. 480° C equals 895° F and from what I gather, hardwoods in a fireplace burn around 900° F so that jives with the number above.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, "Hell no I'm not picking that rock up with my bare hands."


Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Barred Owl Returns...

Last year I posted about a barred own that showed up outside my work window. It's that time again.

Here's a photo I took today from inside the building looking out across the yard and septic field.

Can you spot the owl?

How about now?

How about now?

I'm guessing this is the same owl. Go back and check out the photos from last February, that's the same tree, but the owl is on the next branch down.

This is a nice opening in the forest so the owl must be hoping to spot some small mammal running under the snow. On the other hand. About 75 feet away on the opposite side of the field is the mew with our female captive barred owl. We are getting near mating season.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Alkaline Food

I spoke with my friend Awe lately about food as he used to be a food scientist. We were musing over hte fact that while there are a lot of acidic foods in our diets there are relatively few to no alkaline foods. This is easily explained by two important factors. First off, we like the taste of acidic foods. Foods with a low pH are acidic and create a sour taste. While in the extreme, sour is overwhelming, in moderation it provides the tangy bite in ketchup (acetic acids from the vinegar) and the tangy refreshing bite to lemonade (citric acid in the lemons.) The second factor to consider is a bit more practical. A low pH environment is good for food preservation. This brings up the interesting evolutionary question, "Do humans prefer acidic foods as an adaptive evolutionary strategy because tangy acidic foods are less likely to harbor pathogens?"

When trying to think of foods that are basic or alkaline, the only food he could think of was Lutefisk which is slightly alkaline. Not surprisingly, many people do not like the the taste of alkaline foods. Think soap.

I did a quick web search for alkaline foods and came up with this website.

This is a marvelous example of why you should always assume websites are written by hacks who understand very little science. This person recommends eating lots of vegetables which is probably a good thing but then goes on to say how fruits and vegetables are good alkaline foods. Want some examples? Here's what he has on his chart for foods that are "High Alkaline."

Lemons, Watermelon, Limes, Grapefruit, Mangoes, Papayas

Really? Really? LEMONS! LIMES? Lemons are one of the most acidic foods you can possibly find. Lemons have a pH of 1.8 to 2.3. For comparison, Battery Acid has a pH of 1.0 Any citrus fruit has a low pH due to the citric acid.

Moral of the story? Anyone can make a web page but that doesn't mean they know anything about science.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008


A few years ago I posted a short video of a fireball meteor/meteorite caught on film over Australia. Astronomy Picture of the Day has posted a new and much more recent video that blows that one out of the water. Imagine driving down the road and seeing this.

The video was caught on the camera of a police cruiser November 20th in Canada. What an unbelievable thing to capture. They are trying to figure out if it hit the ground and if so, where. It is incredible how it lights up the whole sky.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Crossing the line

We humans enjoy breaking things up and dividing them with sharp lines, day night, black and white but these are arbitrary lines we etch upon the reality of the thing. There is no line between day and night; no sharp terminus moving from east to west at 733 miles an hour as observed from space. We slide into night slowly, the sun's light fading away until no light bends around the curve of the earth by illuminating the atmosphere with faint stray rays alighting upon stratospheric clouds. The true night comes when the sun dips eighteen degrees below the horizon, then it can get no darker.

So too it is with winter, it slides in upon us. We can come up with dates on a calendar we can draw our little lines but they are merely milestone to mark the passing of time. They are hours on a clock that bring us comfort and order but they are meaningless when we stand alone in the woods confronted by the reality of seasons. This morning it became winter to me. We've been sliding toward it, the shadows growing long for months now. I've seen snowflakes in the skies here and there for more than a week now but it still was not winter, I could not feel it, I could not hear it and I could not taste it.

This morning though it was winter. I stood in the woods and I heard the wind blowing a lonely sound. There was not the familiar soft flutter of quaking aspen, there was not the warm breeze upon my face. A cold moan drove through the trees with a breathed whisper, a cold stinging white noise putting the world to sleep. In the fall there was a crackle of life left, autumnal discussions between leaves and wind. It is gone now, replaced by a cold monotone meditative drone. The trees do talk some but only a talk of cold. On this day, a solitary oak sounds out in the forest as it creaks with a lonesome song as it moves hundreds of years worth of fibers in the wind. These same trees creak in the summer but it somehow sounds different now. Lonelier and plaintive.

Gone are the bird sounds of summer. I am greeted by the solitary woodpecker who's call sounds otherworldly borne on the cold dense winter air. The call is brief, mechanical and to the point. There is no time, no energy for the bird songs that float almost languidly though the verdant green summer woods where time seems to stretch on forever. We have crossed the imagined line. I suppose it happened during the night. One day it feels like fall and the next like winter.

There are only hints of snow on the ground, pockets of fluffy water, it too is sleeping, unable to move on its own. It must obey the wind and in doing so it betrays the serpentine movements of the wind across the land. The heavy cold air moved from the north to me, it dances about my feet in spirals as if examining this bit of warmth in a cold land. It steals what heat it can then moves on. I can feel the feeble heat of the sun as it tries to warm my face. It holds power still but every day it has lost some grip. It will not gain the upper hand for yet another month at the winter solstice but just as it took months to wring and wrest the heat from the land it will take months to bring it back.

I will bide my time, I will wrap up in layer upon layer, trapping heat in insulative pockets of warmth against my skin and I will keep the wind from tearing loose my hard fought warmth stored away from summer. I will bring the sun's heat out from the core of the trees where it was transformed decades ago into fiber. I will let it burn in the fireplace while I sit on the hearth and feel the heat of the sun once again. I will venture out into this cold land and explore it as though it as the new and wondrous world that it is. A new planet has appeared out my door. I don my space suit and explore, discover, revel in my warm core as I see the transformed and transformative sometimes blinding beauty of crystalline water. I will howl at the sun dogs in the sky who watch over me in the day and I will remove my layers one by one as I slide closer and closer to an imaginary line that I will someday step over and find myself in spring.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pine Siskins

I figured there might be Pine Siskins showing up one of these days at the feeders at work but when I checked this morning there were just goldfinches on the thistle feeder. This afternoon I checked again and sure enough there was a lone pine siskin (that streaky fellow on the right) mixed in with the American Goldfinches.


Icing Over

Today at work we went down to check on the lakes. Terrapin lake appeared to have frozen over some time during the day today. We took turns throwing rocks out onto the ice to hear that wonderful ping pa pa pa pa dut dut dut dut dit dit dit di di di sound as they skittered across the ice. Here's Paul with a good throw.
Kathy walked out a few feet and thought that near the shore it was a couple of inches thick. We could see it was really thin further out.

I threw a large rock as hard as I could against the ice off the dock and didn't break through. It did produce this cool impact pattern and I noticed a cool rainbow effect along where it cracked.

We turned around to look at the deeper Mays Lake and it was completely without ice. I spotted the Tundra swans a good distance out but they were hard to see through the strong cold wind. This photo is cropped in as far as possible. There are two adults and two younger swans in this shot and there were two other swans on the opposite shore. These appear to be the same group that were on Terrapin lake last week.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

It begins


Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween Approaches

Halloween is certainly coming. Yesterday there were snowflakes in the air and I finally had time to carve up my pumpkin. I'm pretty happy with the results even though I had none of my pumpkin carving tools. Where's they go?


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ancient Colors in the Valley

Walking outdoors in the St. Croix Valley under autumn trees I can't help but notice the colors. I'm talking, of course, about the colors of the rocks. Glaciers deposited layers of rocks and sand over the existing bedrock thousands of years ago and as a result we can even find every color of rock imaginable.

On a hike with the rest of the staff at the Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center this fall I kept my eyes open for a particular kind of rock. I wasn't finding my quarry but our naturalist intern Jen, also interested in geology, picked up a palm-sized rock and commented on its beauty. She had unknowingly found exactly what I was looking for. Red and black bands streaked across the irregular dirty surface. (see photo above, it is about 4 inches across.) It looked pretty unassuming but this is a rock with a spectacular history. I took a deep satisfying breath as I turned it over in my hands examining it closely. In a way, I had this rock to thank for the oxygen in that deep breath I took. Not only is it one of the oldest rocks on earth, about 2 billion years old, it's also a fossil.

The red stripes are form of chert called jasper and the black stripes are either hematite or magnetite. Stripes are often a sign of a sedimentary rock laid down slowly layer-by-layer. Residents of the St. Croix Valley are no strangers to sedimentary rock. The limestone that pokes out around the valley is sedimentary rock. As their name suggests these rocks are usually sediments compressed together into hard rock by time and pressure. This sedimentary rock is different though and not just because it is more than 1.5 billion years older than the limestone of the valley.

This rock is called a stromatolite and it is evidence of one of the earliest and oldest forms of life on earth. Billions of years ago, shallow seas harbored colonial cyanobacteria. Scientists think we have these cyanobacteria to thank for the formation of an oxygen rich atmosphere on Earth. When these creatures gave off oxygen from photosynthesis they helped change the atmosphere but some of the oxygen combined with dissolved iron in the water and these new iron oxides fell out to the bottom where they got stuck in the slimy coating of the cyanobacteria. Slowly, layer-by-layer, the mats of cyanobacteria got thicker and thicker forming banded layered stromatolites. The iron impurities in silica created the red bands of jasper and the silvery hematite is simply iron bound to oxygen, one of those iron oxides formed long ago. There are massive deposits of these iron rich rocks in northern Minnesota and we know those formations today as the Iron Range. The work of these tiny creatures billions of years ago helped us by creating not only the atmosphere that sustains us but also the iron in our cars, buildings and cookware.

Glaciers pushed this chunk of rock here from up north during the last ice age a mere 10,000 years ago. I ground and polished the rock we found that day until the red jasper glowed the color of blood (which is also red because of iron) and the hematite shined like polished aluminum. The reds of autumn have faded but the bands of red jasper in my hands will last for millions of years more and serve as a reminder of the beauty and complexity of our ancient planet.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rusty Goodness

We were excited to have two rusty blackbirds in the nets today at the Warner Nature Center. I think these are gorgeous birds but of course to some they are exceptionally plain. Sorry, if you think these are boring birds you are mistaken.

The bird on the left if a HY (hatching year) and the bird on the right is an AHY (after hatching year.) Both are males. Rusty blackbirds have a definite cut-off for male vs. female when you measure wing cord so we're sure these are males.

Here's a close-up view of the hatching year bird. The photos don't begin to do the subtle variations in color justice.

Check out his chunky size 2 band. The yellow eye is very striking set against the black underneath and the yellowish wash above. The supercillium didn't seem as yellow on the after hatching year bird.

Here's the after hatching year bird for comparison. Everything has darkened up. Still beautiful.

A wider shot of the older bird.

I'll part today with my favorite shot. Drink in the autumnal rusty goodness.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fall Hike

Ahhh, time for a posting. I finally have a spare moment here in the evening. Being a dad makes blogging a slower process. These are just some quick photos from a staff hike we took on Monday. That would be Paul Smithson, Me, Jen Ester and Kathy Feste. Julie Grecian took the photo. We headed out into the lesser explored western half of the nature center. The field we're standing in is one we rarely go to. It is an important part of the nature center from a land perservation perspective but we don't use it for programming.

I was really impressed by the amount of milkweek on the western side of the property. It seemed to be in pretty healthy abundance.

One of the interesting things we saw was more tornado damage from the Memorial Day weekend storm. This is the tornado entrance into the woods on the westernmost side of the property. When you get up close you can see trees go in every direction due to the rotation.

Below is the view from inside the woods. The camera is looking West, the diretion the tornado came from. Click to see a much larer version. You can see some mature trees with the tops missing. That takes at least 110 mph winds. It can be had to appreciate the damage from a simple photo like this but here's something to consider. This is a mature forest with a closed canopy. See how much sky you can see in the photo? Before the storm you couldn't see sky like that. You can follow where the tornado went bymentall drawing a line through the sky from the right side of the photo to the left. I wish I had taken a photo but one uprooted tree already had a young buckthorn tree growing in the hole left by the root ball. That's depressing.

On a more beautiful note, I spotted this cool Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar. That's all for now!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sarah Palin for President?

Ahhhhhhh! Time for a political post! Can you smell the excitement?
John McCain picked Sarah Palin for his Vice President. This person will be one heartbeat away from leading our country. Is she ready? Is she qualified? What are her values?

Let's explore together!

1. Sarah Palin supports the secessionist Alaska Independence Party who's goal is for Alaska to split away from the United States. She attended their convention in 1994 and her husband was a registered member of the Alaska Independence Party until 2002. He changed his party affiliation to "undeclared" in that year when Sarah decided to run for state office. Six months ago, Sarah Palin told members of the group to "keep up the good work" and "wished the party luck on what she called its 'inspiring convention.'" You can watch the video below that she recorded for their convention.

2. She's inexperienced. She was the mayor of Wasilla, a village with a population of 9,780 (that's one 20th the size of Obama's Illinois congressional district!) and she has been governor of Alaska for less than one full term. Alaska is the 48th most populous state and not exactly a hotbed of international politics. She has only been out of the United States once in her life. (okay, twice if you include Canada.) She didn't even have a passport until last year.

She apparently doesn't even know what a Vice President is supposed to do.

3. She's anti-free speech (a pretty fundamental liberty) as she supports banning books. According to TIME:

"As mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.
4. She fires or threatens to fire people who don't agree with or aren't intimidated by her. She asked for the resignation of Mary Ellen Baker, the librarian above as well as the police chief Stambaugh when she became mayor.
Both Stambaugh and Emmons publicly supported Palin's opponent, long-time mayor John Stein during the campaign last fall. When she was elected, Palin questioned their loyalty and initially asked for their resignations. (from the Anchorage Daily News.)
What a wonderful concept of how government power should work.

5. She thinks people who are raped should be forced to give birth to their rapist's child. Wow that looks ridiculous when I write it out but it is true. Now I know this is a touchy issue for people and there are those who believe that a life is a life and that even a mass of two cells is a life and it is wrong to choose when you are ready to start a family. Most people will make an exception though for women who are raped and not force them give birth to their rapist's child. We may not all agree on the issue of abortion but Sarah Palin is more concerned with the possible future of a lump of cells than she is with ruining the life of a women who has been raped. She wants a raped woman to have to see a living reminder of her rapist every day. That's sick.

6. Palin doesn't believe that humans contribute to global warming. Speaking about climate change, she said, "I'm not one though who would attribute it to being manmade." This shows a reckless disregard for science. We've already had eight years of an executive branch that either doesn't understand science or willfully chooses to ignore it because it goes against their corporate money interests. It isn't surprising she denies the cause of global warming considering that...

7. Palin has close ties to Big Oil. Her inauguration was even sponsored by BP. Hmm, yes, an executive branch with close ties to Big Oil. That sure has served us well the last eight years. We don't need another Bush in the whitehouse.

8. Palin opposes comprehensive sex-ed in public schools. She's said she will only support abstinence-only approaches. Hmm, seems to have worked well for her 17 year old unwed pregnant daughter. Her preaching of abstinence at home probably didn't hold any weight as Sarah herself was a month pregnant with her first child when she got married. This woman is supposed to be a moral leader for our country?

9. Palin wants to teach creationism in public schools. She hasn't made clear whether she thinks evolution is a fact. This shouldn't really surprise us. She denies the best science of the day on global warming too. Look, if you want to teach creationism fine, do it in a church. Schools teach science and the scientific method. If Palin is against the concept of evolution then there is no need for her to ever use any new antibiotics. Bacteria can't evolve so multiple drug resistant staph and TB must be myths. Does anyone currently infected want to go give her a big hug and kiss? She's welcome to use all the antibiotics God created 300o years ago but none of those new ones. Those are only for people who understand science.

10. She's not only ignorant when it comes to science, she wildly ignorant of American history too. She apparently thinks the Pledge of Allegiance was written by the founding fathers. When asked if she found the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance offensive, Palin replied, “Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me.” Uhh, Sarah, “Under God” didn't appear in the Pledge until 1954. The rest of the Pledge was written in 1892. That would be over 100 years after the founding of the country.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Migration Begins

It has been a long while since I posted about birds. I have three birds to add to my yearly list. Two of them are just late additions. I saw a belted kingfisher on the same river trip where I saw the spotted sandpiper that put me at 200 life birds. Since that time, at the beginning of the summer, birding as been slow. The great fall migration has begun though. While working the state fair I saw a flock of blackbirds, they could have been either brewers blackbirds or rusty blackbirds. They were too far away to tell. On my way to work this morning I saw a flock of Red-necked Grebes. They took me a while to ID as they were in their non-breeding plumage already. They were in this small pond near work.

View Larger Map

It is usually a pretty good place to spot water birds.

2008 Running Bird Tally

127 Belted Kingfisher
128 Spotted Sandpiper
129 Red-necked Grebe

Monday, August 18, 2008


A blog post is long overdue but teaching summer camp has drained me of all energy. I taught two photography camps this summer and here are

some photos from one of them. I took some photos with the kids while we were out and about. I'll try to post more later.

This gray tree frog was hanging out on the railing outside the front door.

The coneflowers in the prairie are gorgeous and I could take photos of them all day long.

This is a fairly pale four-spotted skimmer.

Here's a groovy shot of a Halloween Pennant dragonfly.

Here's a cool shot of a four-spotted skimmer eating an insect he caught. Click on it to see the larger version and check out his meal. This is a good time to point out that I love my new camera.

This is a cool photo. I've posted photos of female pondhawks before but I finally got a photo of a male. They look really different than the female.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hail and Storm Photos

It looks like some of my photos of hail and rain made it onto Chikage Windler's weather blog over at KSTP. Scroll down to see them in the second slideshow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hail to thee

We had a surprise hail storm at work today. Well, it wasn't a total surprise, we saw it coming on radar. The strom cell was moving at 16 knots and had cloud tops at 36,000 feet according to radar. There must have been some pretty serious updrafts to keep this hail up in the air and growing . Quarter sized hail was pretty common. There are a few small dings in most of our cars .

Saturday, July 12, 2008

And now for something completely different

My blog has been taken over as of late by birds. Here's something completely different. Last night a big storm blew through and as the front approached there was the great little band of mammatus clouds. I didn't have a wide enough lens on my camera to capture a really spectacular photo but you get the idea. The weather turned nasty after these clouds pushed on.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Wednesday, July 2, I went for a canoe trip on the St. Croix River with Paul and our new summer naturalist Jen. While we were there to make sure Jen was familiar with that part of the river, I also had my eye out for a lifer bird. I've been hovering at 199 birds for quite a while now. I thought I might spot a prothonotary warbler or a cerulean warbler or the like. A bank swallow would have even done the trick. We had almost finished with our short paddle and hadn't seen many birds. Just was we came up on the landing for Franconia I spotted a small sandpiper on the shore. It was a spotted sandpiper! Excellent. I didn't have one on my list yet.

I'm pretty sure I had seen one before. I saw what I thought was one while tubing down the Crow river on the fourth of July weekend years ago but at the time I wasn't totally sure about the ID so I let it pass. This one was for sure. It had the spotted breast and was doing the little bobbing up and down thing.

200 birds has been fun and pretty easy without really trying to hard. Seeing 300 is going to actually take some looking! I think I need to go on vacation though so I can rack up some numbers faster. Seeing another 100 birds in Minnesota would be difficult.

Here's some target birds though that I have not seen in Minnesota that shouldn't be too hard. This list would take me about half way to 300.

Grey Jay
Eared Grebe
American Bittern
American Black duck
Green-winged Teal
Snow Goose
Tundra Swan
Northern Goshawk
Ruffed Grouse
Black Tern
Forster's Tern
Herring Gull
Lesser Yellowlegs
Yellow Billed Cukoo
Eastern Screech Owl
Long Eared Owl

Short Eared Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Snowy Owl
Great Grey Owl
Northern Hawk Owl
Black-backed woodpecker
Three-toed woodpecker
Boreal Chickadee
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Philadelphia Vireo
Purple Martin
Marsh Wren
Sedge Wren
Gray-cheeked Thrush

American Pipit
Brown Thrasher
Bohemian Waxwing
Bay-brested Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Pine Warbler
Brewer's blackbird
Orchard Oriole
Rusty blackbird
Evening Grosbeak
Red Crossbill

Well, time will tell which of those I will see this year. Out of the 200 lifers so far I really liked the tufted puffin I saw from the very edge of the olympic pennisula as well as the American Dipper taking a bath in glacial runoff on Mt. Rainier. I have print photos of both of those and I'll get around to posting them some day. It was only two years ago after all. The birds in Norway were cool too like the Great Spotted Woodpecker on top of the Stavkirke or the Pied Wagtail. My first woodcock was memorable and there were many more. I could spend all night thinking and writing about the adventures with these birds. That's part of what makes it fun!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dragonflies on the Bog

I went down to the bog today, camera in hand, for a little professional development. I need to work on my dragonfly ID. The first I came upon was a male Common Whitetail. I only got this one photo before it flew off. I then immediately saw a very different dragonfly. As you can see in this second photo it looks different but it is actually the same species. This is a female Common Whitetail.

Next up was this Eastern Pondhawk. I photographed one in the bog a few years ago as well. It is a common resident. This one was actively chasing or "hawking" some species of what I think was a bee fly.

Very close by I spotted this immature male willow skimmer. It is hard to tell an immature male and a female apart but you can see some white smoky color appearing in the wings just to the outside of the black patches. On an adult male these patches are more apparent and the abdomen will turn gray.

The next species I spotted was a Calico Pennant. It can be identified by the yellow heart shapes running down the abdomen. Since the hearts are yellow this is either an immature male or a female. They would be red on a male. The yellow stigma (that's those solid yellow rectangles on the leading edges of the wings) though tells me that this is a female. They would be red on a male.

The next one isn't the best picture as I could not get a good shot of the abdomen. It is a juvenile or female twelve spotted skimmer. It isn't possible to tell them apart. It looks a lot like a female common whitetail shown in the second photo of this post but as you can just barely see in this photo the lateral yellow stripe on the abdomen is continuous whereas on the common whitetail it is a broken yellow line.

The sixth species I spotted was interesting in that it was the only species that returned to a perch as it hunted. I couldn't get a good shot from the boardwalk so I crawled out on a log in the moat and simply waited for the dragonfly to return to the perch. It still isn't the best diagnostic shot but this is a four spotted skimmer.

The last dragonfly I saw in the bog was a really cool one. It flew so different than the others. It was a Racket-tailed emerald. The two yellow semi-circles at the top of the abdomen are diagnostic.

To be really dorky, I can show it is a Racket-tail emerald for sure because the triangle in the wing shown below has no veins though it which is also diagnostic of this species. That's not something you can spot as it flies by!

Well, not too bad for a short hike though the bog!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mystery Butterfly

I took this photo down by the lake today at work. I thought it was a red-spotted purple at first but when I looked closer at the photo there seems to be a few things different than usual. The red seems to be in the wrong place on the top of the wing. A classic red-spotted purple should have those red dots up on the edge of the fore wing not the hind wing. The under wing seems too black and lacks the red spots typical of this species. A lot of the other details are correct though. the two larger white spots on the tip of the fore wing, the white tips leading to two light blue dots then a light blue crescent then black then light blue turning to purple...all of these things are correct but those darn reddish spots! The red-spotted purple IS supposed to have red dots exactly where they appear on this butterfly but they are supposed to be on the underside of the wing, not the top. I vaguely recalled that red-spotted purples hybridize with white admirals, maybe this was a hybrid? I decided to investigate.

Here's a link to a butterfly someone is calling a red-spotted purple and a white admiral hybrid. Looks pretty similar. You can just see some light red spots on the hind wing. But, here's a photo of a butterfly someone in Wisconsin is calling a red-spotted purple and it looks exactly like the one in my photo. The red dots on the hind wing are exactly like those of a white admiral and this butterfly looks like a combination of a white admiral and a red-spotted purple. As it turns out there is a lot of confusion over these butterflies.

Because red-spotted purple and white admiral butterflies freely interbreed, some scientists have decided that they are in fact the same species. This gets into the sticky debate of "What is a species?" In 2001, the white admiral and red-spotted purple were re-classified as subspecies of the newly created species red-spotted admiral.

So, I can safely say this is a red-spotted admiral. Check out this wonderful page of photos to see the variation in this species. Scroll down and the first few photos look just like mine. So, this is one of many variations of red-spotted admiral butterfly created by interbreeding of the two sub-species, red-spotted purple and white admiral.

We all clear now?


Monday, June 23, 2008

Scoot Scoot

For many years Chelsey and I have talked about getting scooters. It really isn't very practical in Minnesota so it has always been just a dream. With gas prices rising that dream seems at least a little bit more realistic. Scooters are still too expensive to ride just six months a year and the US dollar is so weak that scooter prices are though the roof so there probably isn't a scooter in our future for a little while longer. It's fun to dream though. Here's some pretty pictures. Perhaps my ultimate dream bike right now? A 1966 two tone metallic blue and grey/white Vespa 150 with chrome edging and white sidewall tires. Drool.

Now, the price on something like this, an actual restored 66 vespa with chrome and a custom paint job is astronomical. What Chelsey has long wanted is a Stella, imported by The Genuine Scooter Company. The Stella is made in the same factory in India that made the Vespa PX from 1978-2005. When Piaggio (the manufacturer of the Vespa) decided to no longer make the PX, LML decided to keep making it for themselves and the Stella was born.

Now Chelsey likes the red, and I do too but what about getting a Stella and doing a custom paint job like that Vespa at the top? I did a quick photoshop job. I can't really recreate the shiny metallic paint and I didn't bother with the tires but you get the idea. While this would be gobs less expensive than the 66 vespa a new Stella is still over $3000 and that wouldn't include the cost to make it look something like this. We're probably looking at something like $4000. Still way out of my price range.

Genuine Scooter company does make some of their own scooters and I think this one is okay. It is the Buddy International 150. This is a nice scooter but the front end looks a little undersized. It has some classic styling but is all new. Nice tires. Sticker price is still too high though. I can pick one up locally for $3400. Ouch. Let's try again.
Now here's something different. This is the Charming from Lance Powersports. I really dig this style but it is only made in a 50cc scooter which would be cool for swinging on down to the movie theater but not practical for going to work. I need something that can do 55 mph. I don't plan on going on the highway but the back roads to work are 55 mph roads.
I like the two tone paint jobs available and the handlebars with the non-integrated speedometer. The light is built into the front instead of the handlebars which is not ideal but at least it is cool looking and not ugly like many other scooters with weird shaped front lights. I think this is actually a rip off of a Honda Metropolitan.

While looking at these I discovered the 150cc Lance Vintage. This is really cool. The body is a ripoff of the Honda Joker which is a scooter I liked five or so years ago when I last looked at scooters. Here it is in red. It has chopper style handlebars with the light attached and nice instruments in three clusters. They aren't encased in a plastic dash like many of the other scooters. There are a lot of versions of this bike out there by different companies but Lance seems to have the nicest details. Retail price seems to be $1995 and climbing by the week. They are in demand and the price keeps going up. That makes them pretty unattractive to me. The price has gone up about $500 in the last month! I would save less than $500 per year in gas because my car is so efficient so the dealors have essentially added more than a year to the time to pay this off which makes it impractical. I haven't sat on one of these but it is one of the bigger vintage looking scooters out there which I think is important since I am 6 feet tall and would look really weird on a scooter that was too small. I think I would remove the box on the back as it is kind of lame.

There may be one more option. At the bottom of the barrel (which is more my price point) I can get a bike like this. I'm not wild about the handlebars but they are okay. I can probably get one of these for around $1200. I don't think I like this quite as much as the Vintage but I would want to see one in person. I'm afraid I would look too big on it. The only way to get that low a price is to have one drop shipped to my house and then do some of the assembly myself. I'm not totally opposed to that. I think I would learn a lot about how the bike goes together and be able to fix more down the road.

Reality Check

All of the bikes in this post are 150cc bikes. In reality that isn't enough power for my commute when I need sustained speeds of 55 mph. Sure, some of these bikes can do 55 mph but they aren't meant to sustain that speed and it is hard on the engine. Hills are a problem. That leaves me with few choices. The new Vespas come in a 250 cc model.
You're looking at a $6000 bike. Forget it. I maybe could pick one up used for $4000, still too much or maybe used and dented for less.

Dreaming's free.