About Me

My photo
Renaissance man in a state of flux, trying to absorb all the knowledge and wisdom I can while I immerse myself in the arms of Earth Mother as much as I can, and drawn to the sea always.

Maine Island Trail Association

Friday, July 4, 2014

Great Gear to Get: JETBOIL SUMO

   The world of the "camp stove" has evolved from cooking over an open fire to stoves that can now charge your electronic devices. We've used every fuel imaginable and pumped pressure into reservoirs until our arms fell off. We've had to use windscreens, and we have forgotten windscreens only to have our efforts to even have a cup of coffee foiled just when you need it most.
   However, I think those days are over, especially for me with my penchant for camping out of a kayak. Enter into my world the JetBoil line of stoves. Small, self contained, no fuel to spill and will heat a quart of water to full rolling boil before you can get your smartphone stop watch initialized.

First, let me say that I will be talking about the SUMO size of the JetBoil. Yet, despite it's name, denoting size and girth, still fits in a small dry bag along with a couple fuel canisters. Now, one of the initial "push backs" I got on this system is the empty canisters that one will have to pack out during your trip. Being a firm believer of "Leave no trace", I have no problem packing out what I carry in. In fact I think it's the only way one should camp. It helps you keep your outfitting efficient and keeps the camp site pristine for the next camper. The Sumo comes equipped with a large main 'pot', 3 cups/bowls, fuel mounting system with integrated sparking unit and flame control, folding stability legs to go on the fuel can that attaches to the base and lids for everything.
As I said earlier, everything fits easily into a small dry bag, making transport a breeze and leaving you plenty of room for the rest of your gear. Which if you are counting on your kayak to carry everything, every inch counts.
The construction is robust, I have no fears of anything breaking in transit and set up is simple and fast. Once assembled you are literally a couple of minutes from a steaming cup of a hot beverage, which can be a huge boost when paddling in less than balmy conditions. And, JetBoil fuel is available in a 'four seasons mix', making it even more ideal for year 'round excursions.

One of the things I like best about the Sumo is the fact that you have enough bowls/cups for not only yourself but another camper. Meaning, quite simply MORE ROOM in another boat for more food, water, gear, whatever will make your trip more enjoyable. For those of you who do camp out of kayaks you are well aware of how every inch is precious and can make the difference between bringing something and leaving it in the car.

Everything you see to the right came out of that one small dry bag. The parts stayed cool, the contents of the large pot stayed hot making it the ideal vessel for a one pot meal, soup, chili and the like. The JetBoil system has accessories enough to satisfy the most hardcore gear junkie (like me) including a "Crunch it" key to make the empty fuel canisters recyclable! A major plus for me...it makes the fact there is no fuel to spill and even bigger plus for the JetBoil.

I have used a lot of different camp stoves in my life, from single burner multi-fuel models to large table top models for 'car camping' and by far and away the JetBoil is the most efficient, most compact and easy to use and transport cooking system I've encountered. I have had no difficulty finding an ample supply of the fuel and do plan ahead so I know I have enough for my trip then some. So, if you like your camp cooking as easy as it can get, I heartily recommend the JetBoil, especially for paddling. I am still wowed by how small it all packs down! Thank you, JetBoil!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Eagles and Owls and Orioles, OH MY!


 Literally in the shadows of one of this country's largest cities lies it's last marshland. The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is wedged between the city and it's airport. It is an important migratory stop over for birds as well as precious breeding grounds. Right now, the refuge is not only hosting Bald Eagles (today I saw an immature one up close.....crippling good look at my friends across the pond would say, but nest Great Horned Owl. Quite a few people got terrific views of the branched owlet just posing for the birders
who were there. I set up my scope and let passers by take a gander at what may have been there first look at a Great Horned Owl.
   Birding is one of the things I have always defined myself by. Yet it has somehow gotten away from me. A lot of  it has to do with the fact that for over a decade it REALLY defined me. I was "the bird man". I owned a backyard bird feeding shop, led bird walks from the store, volunteered for Audubon, wrote a couple books, a couple national articles, taught school classes and scout troops. Even entered three World Series of Birding and the team accounted itself well. All my friends were birders and/or naturalists of some kind, and I felt as if I had found my niche in the world. Turns out I was a pretty good birder and taught about it pretty well, too. Then, I was hit by a perfect storm. In a span of a few months, the Black Oil Sunflower seed crop in this country failed and a Wal-Mart (read Death Star) opened up about a mile away. It didn't take long for rising seed costs and what I considered unfair competition to derail 10 years of dedication and hard work. There are other subsequent chapters to that tale that I will spare you....needless to say "catching on" in the bird world was not an easy thing to do, nor an easy way to make a living.
   Since then, my birding has been sporadic, still doing it, but, not every free moment. I took up kayaking, which rapidly became another passion of mine. I also found that I could combine the two and see some birds normally seen at the limit of conjecture up close and personal. I drifted more and more towards paddling, as birding was tied to such a sense of loss. When I had to close my store, I literally had to take a hammer and destroy all that I had built and throw it in a dumpster. Take that, psyche.
   So, with that in mind, you may understand why I don't jump in the car and just go bird as much. Sometimes it just gets the better of me. But, not today. I had been fighting a sore throat/cold for the past week, and it's a 3 day weekend with flawless weather. I was up early enough to get out and see what I could find, so, off I went in search of a game of feathered Hide and Seek. I had not gone 10 yards past the entrance gate when perched in the top of a willow was a male Baltimore Oriole in all his fluorescent orange. Let me digress a moment about Baltimore Orioles (and some of their cousins, too)......How does this bird HIDE? You hear their crystal clear, loud whistle and you scour the tree tops for a hint of orange. But more times than not, all you get is that whistle that can be heard for what seems like miles. And, yes he really is THAT orange. And, he's not a small bird by any stretch of the imagination. Orioles are about the size of an American Robin, and is actually a member of the Blackbird family. But, when you get your binoculars (or if your really luck, your scope) on this bird, no one can help but gasp a bit. I have seen many, many Baltimore Orioles, but, I never tire of watching them.
   I've stopped "listing" the birds I see on walks as it seemed to get redundant after a while. Todays feathered findings were lots of Yellow Warblers, Tree Swallows by the score, Barn Swallows, Gray Catbirds, American Robins, Orchard Oriole (a less spectacularly orange cousin of the Baltimore), Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egrets (in their breeding finery), Marsh Wren, Carolina Wren, Mallards, Song Sparrow, Carolina Chickadee along with the Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl and Baltimore Oriole. I'm sure I'm leaving some out, but, it was nice to walk the circuit at Tinicum again.
   On the topic of Tinicum, as I stated earlier it is a National Wildlife Refuge with city limits of Philadelphia. There is no entrance fee as there is at NWR's like Bombay Hook or Forsythe, which means it's free to the public. Now this may sound like a good thing. Free usually is. But, sadly, not in this case. The refuge is open to fishing (why anyone would fish Darby Creek is beyond me), mountain bikers and people with their pets. This refuge has also suffered myriad indignations such as massive oil spills underneath it, airport expansion (which, in fairness, was replaced by another tract of the refuge) and the never ending noise pollution created by the airport, I-95 and an occasional freight train. Doesn't sound like much of a refuge does it? The way I read the term "Wildlife Refuge", I see that it means a refuge for wildlife. Not a public dog walk (by the way, I love dogs, have two....just don't bring them to the refuge), not a bicycle trail, I've almost been run over several times by careening bikes. And, last I checked, 'harvesting' the wildlife (fish) isn't offering them refuge, even if it's catch and release. Today I had the unfortunate circumstance to come across a couple with two small dogs that were completely out of control. Barking uncontrollably and acting aggressive to anyone who dared walk by. And, me being me, had to say something about them scaring every bird for hundreds of yards scurrying for cover, where the owner decided I was wrong to say anything about his out of control "dogs". Turns out he was as aggressive and out of control as the dogs. I was subjected a barrage of expletives that was just plain foul. I don't take that kind of verbal abuse well and it took an awful lot of self control from throwing all of them into the water and letting the Snapping Turtles have at them. I'm sorry if people don't like being called on being selfish and rude, but, how about a little personal responsibility??? Myself? I'd like JHNWR@T become a REAL National Wildlife Refuge, I'd happily pay the admission and have them ban the pets, the fishing and the bikes. Also, isn't there the possibility that domestic animals may bring disease into the refuge that the residents are vulnerable to?
A wildlife refuge is for the wildlife, this refuge has suffered enough in my eyes, it is time to treat it like a real NWR and not a city park.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Elk River/Chesapeake Bay via Rogue's Harbor


   It was one of those beautiful days that beckons paddlers to the water, the siren cry can be heard from hundreds of miles away. One of those days that it doesn't matter how far you have to go to get into "The Wet".  It's time to 'boat up' and get paddling. Mind you, I've been a few times this year, since things finally thawed after the winter that wouldn't end, but, I wanted to go someplace that I hadn't been a hundred times, so, with 'Scott' on 'Penny', I headed for Elk's Neck State Park in Maryland, and very nice put in at Rogue's Harbor at the end of the Elk River and leads right into Chesapeake Bay. Along the way, at the tip of the headland that divides the Elk from the Chesapeake is Turkey Point and it's famous lighthouse.
   The only "hassle" of launching from Rogue's Harbor is that the ramps are usually tied up by power boats, meaning paddlers need to launch from the adjacent beach. All well and good, right? Well, yeah, but, it's over a hill and a sidewalk that leads down to the dock. A mere 50 yards away, but, with a fully loaded kayak on your shoulder, it can feel like 5 miles! If you have a kayak trolley (wheels) to move your kayak over land, BRING IT! It will make your life infinitely easier, even if you have to take it back to your car once your on the beach.
   I pushed out off the beach and was immediately surprised at just how still the water was. I had put in from this spot before and negotiated the current coming down the river, spilling out into the bay. Riding the slight bumps as I moved closer to the tip of the headland, and the swells in the Chesapeake. This was not one of those days. The water was smooth as glass with barely a ripple that was not made by my kayak.
   I proceeded down towards Turkey Point, angling out away from the coastline in order to make sure I could see the lighthouse. Too close to shore and you will not be at a proper angle to see it, as it is set back of the rapidly eroding point. We had flooding wind and rain just a couple days prior and the effect was noticeable. The dirt cliffs facing the bay were freshly washed and there was driftwood everywhere, as if a tree had exploded over the water. I found myself steering around some of the larger pieces, while the smaller ones just bobbed up and down. Good thing they were around, or I would have been the only thing breaking the surface tension of the water. The bay was empty, I was alone and found myself soaking in the solitude and the sounds of the birds around me including a small group of Least Terns,
who had decided that the buoys along the way were good resting spots, their yellow beaks glowing in the sunshine. I enjoyed seeing them and watching their aerobatics punctuated by their head long crashes into the water and coming up with a small fish. It has long amazed me how so many of the sea-going birds can plummet at full speed into the water, grab a fish and come up again none the worse for wear. The larger the bird the more impressive the splash and the outcome as well.
   I was thoroughly enjoying my paddle, the solitude, the water, my kayak and the occasional avian companion when one of the banes of my life now, and my paddling decided to rear it's ugly head. I get uncontrollable (and so far, undiagnosable) severe muscle cramps. Sometimes in my hands, which one doctor said was a form of 'Writer's Cramp' because my hands distort painfully when it hits. It can also hit in my legs, thighs and/or calves and wherever it occurs, it is really painful. I had planned on
paddling around Turkey Point and up to the beach on the bayside, having some lunch and paddling back. The cramp in my hand subsided, so I pushed on a bit further. But, then it started in my right leg! Discretion being the better part of valor, and the fact that I was paddling solo, I decided to turn around and take a leisurely paddle back to Rogue's Harbor. I've gotten pretty good at sucking up the cramps and just taking my time, so, I continued to enjoy the beauty of the day and the water as I headed back to the put in.
   I've been told time and again that I am "pushing my luck" paddling alone with the muscle spasms....heck, paddling alone itself. But, I belong in my kayak.....I belong on the water. I take every precaution I can. Spot Personal tracker with emergency service, VHF radio, cell phone in dry bag, a chart so I know where I can take out in an emergency. I am not going to stop paddling.....I will not go quietly into that good night. All in all, it was a beautiful day and wonderful way to spend it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Zen and the Art of Birdwatching

After many years of attempting to watch birds, sometimes succeeding, often times not, I began to notice patterns. Things that happened time and time again. I had always considered my passion for birds the true path to enlightenment, and then one fine day at Cape May, I believe I achieved it. Things came into focus and I understood that all parts of birding are intertwined, the successes and the failures, the joys and frustrations. It was with this in mind, and the desire to help fellow birders on their journey to enlightenment, that I present the following words of wisdom.
1) The greatest bird repellant in the world is a pair of binoculars.
Just try walking out of the house one day without them and count the number of times you really wanted them. But, the minute you hang them around your neck, there is not a feather in sight!

2) Birds recognize the sound of a spotting scope being set up. I also believe that they all can count to three. A beautiful bird will be sitting there, posing for you, and you try everything possible to get your scope set up quickly and quietly. But, the minute that third tripod leg hits the ground…POOF! It’s off with the next breeze.

   3 )Birds love to play hide and seek. Who hasn’t been out on a walk, heard a bird, found the movement in the tree, gotten their binoculars on it quickly, only to find just a tail feather or beak sticking out from behind a leaf. Red-Eyed Vireos are the all time champs at hide-and-seek. I even think their call sounds like “see me…here I am..nope…not there….here I am…over here….” This also has to do with why all the really colorful warblers leave the area when the leaves come down. The game is over for another season.

   4) Pishing really doesn’t work. Many of you have been on bird walks and heard leaders attempt to “pish” up some birds. Well, they’re really not attracting them. The birds just like to come up and see the funny faces people make while pishing.

5) Birds watch us as much as we watch them. I am constantly amazed at how close birds come to people out on walks. I really believe that Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches and Kinglets have formed a National Birder-Watching Society. They probably keep life lists and get extra points for up close and personal identification.

    6) There are four necessities to successful bird watching. One is a sense of wonder and curiosity. You must want to go out and look for the birds. The second is a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars are the tool of the trade. I always empathize with people who attempt to bird watch with binoculars that just don’t fit, or aren’t geared toward birding. The third is a good field guide, one for our area that you have taken the time to familiarize yourself with. One that employs paintings instead of photographs. The fourth is a “bird buddy,” someone with whom to share the elation the hobby brings. Birding is certainly something you can do on your own, but, as with most good things in life, is better when shared.

     7) Birders are a community unto themselves, where the only prerequisite is shared interest. We all are constantly learning and teaching. Even novice birders comment on how helpful other birders are and how knowledge and information are so freely and gladly shared.

     8) Birders are a breed apart. Who else would be standing on a wind blown beach, at 6:30 a.m., half-freezing to death with binoculars and scopes trained on the horizon trying to decide whether the birds hundreds of yards out to sea are black or surf scoters?

   9) The amount and variety of birds seen is equal to or greater than the amount of time spent looking. Face it, the longer you look, the more you’ll see. But, it’s not quite that simple. I believe that the longer you’re looking, the better you’re looking. You become more attuned to your surroundings and notice more birds.

    10)  Last, but not least, birds can’t read. No matter how many field guides and behavior guides you commit to memory, there is a bird out there prepared to make a fool of you. Birds that aren’t supposed to be in one place invariably are. Birds that shouldn’t be doing that, do. Basically, birds are wild animals and do what they want when they want. Learn to live with it. Or to borrow a line from that previous list, if the birds disagree with the books, BELIEVE THE BIRDS.

I’ve got a secret

Walking around my yard this afternoon, I looked up. Well, that’s what people who look at birds do. Scan the sky and the treetops and see what is around. I catch a dark form sky surfing through the Cirrus clouds, one that my experience and lots of trial and error (mostly error) allows me to pin the title accipter to. Lifting my binoculars to my eyes (yes I had them with me, as I do all the time. Doesn’t everyone?) I see the almost headless form of a bird of prey most commonly called a Sharp Shinned Hawk. “Sharpies” are the birds of prey most backyard bird feeders encounter, especially as the weather turns cooler. You see, accipters by trade are songbird hunters. Their shorter rounder wings and long rudder like tail allow them to chase and catch songbirds.  And they do so with great success, as the species survival attests. This particular Sharp Shinned Hawk was not on the hunt however; the Chickadees and Titmice in the yard were busy scurrying around going about the business of being Chickadees and Titmice. No, this hawk was just out for an early winter’s fly. Soaring on thermals and banking with the wind. In fact, he looked like he was having fun.

As I watched this hawk, I wondered, does anyone else see this bird? Is anyone else sharing this moment with me? Or is this just a moment for the Sharpie and I?  A command performance? I think not….Sharpies are not the kind of bird you command around. A private moment? I believe so….I was not standing on a ridge or hawk watch platform amidst a cadre of other birders during peak migration. Just a wonderful Sharp Shinned Hawk and I, watching his effortless circling. Now, I know that the Sharpie couldn’t know I was there, and if it did, couldn’t care less. But, at that moment, that snap shot in my memory, I was privy to something special.  I found myself guarding it jealously. Savoring each moment of observation, watching so intently I can see the hawk shrug his shoulders and bank steeply left. I didn’t want anyone else to be seeing this. I wanted this to be my moment. Mine and the high flying Sharp Shinned Hawk enjoying his winter constitutional. I must have watched this bird for ten minutes.  I could swear he was showing off. Every now and then the Sharpie would put on a burst of speed, the kind of acceleration that closes the gap between predator and prey and insures one’s survival and one’s demise.  The slow long turns accentuated by quick changes in direction. It is no wonder that we humans, helplessly tethered to the ground, have long admired and often times worshiped birds of prey. Such mastery of the sky is something to be admired and respected. As I watched this hawk, I thought about the literally thousands of Sharp Shinned Hawks I have seen over the years. And, you know what, I was still in just as much awe, was just as excited and enjoyed this particular Sharpie as much as any of them. If not perhaps more. This was just a special treat. One that I was lucky enough to see because I looked up. Just glancing around the skies, taking an avian inventory as it were.  Jealously guarding my secret, reveling in the fact that, in my mind, I was the only one who saw this and it made me smile.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Marsh Creek 4.26.14

It dawned a beautiful Saturday morning and I had to get on the water someplace...was not up for a long drive, so I headed up to the Downingtown area and the marina side of Marsh Creek State Park. There were several fisherman and other kayakers on the water, but, Marsh Creek is big enough not to feel too crowded, especially on a blustery, April day. It was odd seeing that not 25 miles away, spring had yet to really have srpung. Most of the foliage was still brown/grey and there was a distinct lack of bird activity. Mind you, the Tree Swallows were fully present with their blue/silver aerobatics. I was unnerved by the amount of people on the water who were not properly dressed. One kayaker was out in a tank top and shorts and not wearing their pfd at all. And when I advised them that they were now mandatory, it was one of the old 'horse collar' or 'Mae West' designs. Yes, it was a sunny day, but, it was blustery and the water was still very cold. Right around 55 degrees farenheit. The refrain of "it doesn't feel so bad to me" echoed across the lake. I was just hoping I wouldn't hear any bad news the next day about someone succumbing to hypothermia and drowning. DRESS FOR THE WATER FOLKS!
Just out for a little sun

I was happy to see the Red Eared Sliders had emerged from their muddy winters sleep and were sunning themselves on all the downed logs that edged the lake. One actually had a peeling shell, something I'd not ever seen before. It was still great to see them, the Turkey Vultures and the Red-tailed Hawk who kept me company on my paddle.

With the wind blowing 15-25 mph, I was very happy to have my GearLab Greenland style, carbon fibre paddle with me. It is virtually effortless to use, and weighs next to nothing. It is a worthy addition to anyone's paddle quiver.

It was also my first day out with the GoPro camera. I actually managed to get it to work and to sync up with it's wireless remote. I shot a few five minute videos, and it was a lot of fun. The images were breathtaking when I got to view them on my Mac, the resolution was shockingly good, and it really felt like I could reach right in. Now to work on my editing and shooting skills.....a five minute video is really long and even for the one who shot it, really boring. I am looking forward to learning more about it and adding some video to this blog as well.