Sunday, February 22, 2009

More Birds 'n Stuff

The park opens at 8:00am. We figured we'd be there just as it opened, it would be quieter and maybe the new ducks would be less shy. Of course, we waltzed through the gate at 9:15am with this character:

She does not attract birds, to say the least. She has such a great time, though, I don't have the heart to leave her home. Look at that last picture; that is a happy dog! We did take her walking separately, so we could each spend some time on shore without the dog taking pictures. It worked a little better than yesterday.

This is all wrong from a photography standpoint. You're not supposed to have so much junk cluttering up the pretty mountains. I don't care, I like this shot. This is the sun just barely hitting the Spring Mountains. You can't see Mt. Charleston itself because of the clouds, but it's back in there.

Mallards are so common, it's easy to forget how pretty they are. Also, they are not shy. This fella was sitting practically at my feet, so I couldn't resist him.

I wish I'd spent more time chasing this guy. We saw him fly up, I snapped a couple shots, then didn't think too much more of it when he landed in a tree. I had ducks to get to! Turns out, this is a Black-crowned Night Heron. As the name implies, they usually hunt at night. I guess it's not unheard of to see them in the day, just considerably less common, so I passed up a good opportunity.

The rest of the post is Mergansers and Cormorants. A pair of Cormorants came close-ish, so we did get some better shots of those. Incidentally, the bird books reveal that Cormorant feathers are not entirely waterproof. Seems like a design flaw, no? Anyway, in a couple of these you can see how low they get when they are swimming.

Check out the 'do on the guy in the middle!

I did not take these, but I think they probably turned out the best of all the Cormorant pictures.

Parkin' it.

Back to the park! First, a shot of the Shovelers again. This time I was able to get Mrs. Shoveler with her beak out of the water. It seems that a lot of the Shovelers' time is spent spinning in slow circles and sucking stuff (food, I assume) out of the water. The female looks an awful lot like a female Mallard until you see the beak. Also, they are slightly smaller, but you really have to see them together before that's apparent.

The duck-type wimminfolk really got the short end of the looks stick, in most cases. Not all, however! Out in the middle of the big lake (which is way too far, really, for our lens) there was something we hadn't seen before. These pictures are really far away, but once we got home, I looked them up and these are female Common Mergansers. Not, you know, exotic, just common, but we hadn't seen them before. One of my bird books says this is the only Merganser in North America where the female is crested and the male is not. So now you know too.

When I first opened up the pictures, I thought we'd gotten three new types of birds. Nope. The white birds with black heads are male Mergansers. There's one female here, she's the one that looks like a punk rocker. But behind the Mergansers, there are two Double-crested Cormorants. Cool! So here's this flock of stuff we haven't seen before, waaaay out in the middle of the lake where we can't get good pictures.

Another shot of some Cormorants.

Since the park was pretty busy and these guys showed no inclination to leave the middle of the lake, we decided we'd head out and come back early Sunday. I'll put those pictures in another post, but I'll leave you with a couple more.

I've mentioned before I'm partial to coots, but this guy was pretty funny. He was standing on his little hummock stomping his foot. I don't know what he was doing, but it was surprisingly loud.

There's nothing at all special about the geese in this picture, but I loved the light in this one.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chilly Day at the Park

I'm kinda mad about this. We saw a new kind of bird at the park and I'm pretty happy with the pictures. I'm not happy that I'm still unable to get PhotoShop running on my Vista computer and I don't have the editing tools to get these pictures looking the way I'd like. My exposure is a little off, so I'm not thrilled with the pictures, but the white chests of these ducks are not blown out, they just look that way. There's recoverable detail in the white feathers that I can't bring out with what I've got. Arrgh! Ok, anyway....

There were several migratory Northern Shovelers who decided to stop at the park for us. How cool! I have long wanted to see something other than the Mallards that you can find anywhere and yesterday was our day. Lookit the beaks on these guys! I wonder why they're called "Shovelers"?

Just for fun, here's the dog. "My nickname is 'Spitty'!!" I believe dogs actually see birds headless, plucked, basted and running around wearing those little paper booties, just like in the cartoons.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Breakfast Blogging

After writing out my Swedish pancake recipe yesterday, I couldn't pass up the chance to make them for breakfast today. It only took an hour and a half, since I started messing around taking pictures. (What happens when you take a picture of a mixer mixing? Let's find out!) I have over 80 pictures of breakfast now, isn't that awesome? I'm such a dork.

As promised, I decided to try to make these as healthy as possible. I did not double the recipe this time just in case I'd guessed wrong. Eggs were replaced by egg beaters, milk by powdered milk. Also, I used margarine instead of butter, but I've done that before.

The good news is, the pancakes tasted the same to us! The bad news is, boy is that batter sticky. I had to use Pam on my "non-stick" pan between EVERY pancake to keep them from sticking too bad. Not that big of a deal, the Pam doesn't add bad stuff in, you just have to remember to spray every time.

The texture of the pancakes was just slightly dryer than with the real eggs and milk. I think I will still choose to make these pancakes for us the healthier way, it wasn't a big change. I think it's the eggs that make the texture difference, I might mix in one real egg to 2 Egg Beater eggs, see how that works. Right now, though, I think a special occasion would call for the real kind.

So what does happen when you take a picture of a mixer mixing? Meet Mr. KitchenAid, my best kitchen purchase ever. I don't stir anything any more, I just let him do the work. Anyway, here are three of my favorite pictures, kind of an abstract-y and interesting. I like how the whisk looks like it is flying apart.

Back to the topic, here's what the batter looks like mixed up. You can tell I did remember to grind some cinnamon and nutmeg this time!

Batter freshly poured into the pan:

Pancake just about ready to flip:

Whoops! Forgot the Pam:

This pancake got flipped a little too soon, you can see how wet the bubbles are. It doesn't hurt the flavor at all, I just thought it looked cool. This is why it took an hour and a half to make breakfast.

Stack of finished pancakes!

Incidentally, my kitchen is not this yellow. The light is bad and I don't have a flash setup. I should have used the tripod and spent more time with the lighting, but I figured I really had already geeked out enough over breakfast. It's not exactly something National Geographic is going to want, you know? However, it does give me a lot of admiration for people who take pictures of food for magazines and whatnot. It's harder than it looks.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Swedish Pancakes - UPDATED

UPDATE: For all of you losing sleep over the outcome of the "healthy" pancake attempt, see part two.

And now, for something completely different...

In response to this wonderful-sounding pancake topping, I immediately thought of putting it over my favorite Swedish pancakes. The recipe was "handed down" from my mom, but I'll have to ask where it came from.

Disclaimer: I'm not a great cook. I can follow a recipe and there are a few ingredients I'll experiment with. One the best cookbooks I own is The Dinner Doctor, which is basically inventive recipes from prepared foods. I like it quick and easy. With that out of the way, here's the recipe.

1 1/2 cup Flour

3 tbls Sugar

1/2 tsp Salt

3 eggs, beaten

2 cups milk

2 tbls butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla*

Mix the eggs, milk, sugar, salt, butter and vanilla and flour. I have a stand mixer and I just dump everything in that because I'm lazy, but you can stir it together or use a hand mixer. You should end up with a thin batter, these are actually more like crepes than true pancakes. Pour some of the batter slowly into a hot skillet (if you pour too fast, your pancakes end up with arms when the batter runs). You can make your pancakes whatever size you like, I usually go for a little smaller than a regular tortilla. There's really no secret to cooking them, just wait until the middle bubbles and the sides start to curl, flip, and do the other side.

This makes about a dozen pancakes, depending on the size. I usually do a double batch and freeze any we don't eat.

Note: Vanilla is one of those ingredients I will mess with. I like vanilla and I have yet to discover a recipe where doubling the vanilla did not improve the outcome, but your mileage may vary. I use 2 tsp of vanilla in this recipe and if the measuring spoon overflows a little, I don't worry about it. Also, if I think of it, I add some cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter, call it 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp nutmeg for a doubled recipe. I don't measure the spices and the pancakes turn out fine whether I remember or not.

These are not healthy pancakes, if there even is such a thing, but I will probably try a couple things next time I make them (the pounds don't melt away like they used to these days). First, I've had really good luck substituting Egg Beaters Egg Whites for eggs in cooking, so I will try that. Second, I've also had good luck substituting powdered milk for real milk in recipes. Last, I have made these with both butter and margarine and I honestly don't notice a difference. Those changes would knock out quite a bit of the fat and cholesterol and I don't think they would affect the taste. Looking at the recipe is making me hungry, so maybe I will try those changes tomorrow morning and let you know.


I've been bad about putting up pictures. I could whine and tell you that computer issues have made editing challenging, but I won't, even though it's true. I'm so far behind, I'll try to get a few up anyway.

To start off, the annual Thanksgiving trip to Death Valley. We've done it twice now, so I think it's officially a tradition. First stop, the Mesquite sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. These turned out better than I'd hoped, I think. It had rained quite a bit the day before we got there, and I was afraid the dunes would turn out muddy-looking. Sunset light does amazing things, though. Unfortunately, it couldn't get rid of all the people and footprints, but at least you can see the colors.

Next day, Scotty's Castle. This is a truly impressive bit of construction. It's not difficult to get to today, but it is in the middle of nowhere and that would have been even more true when it was built.

"Scotty" was Walter Scott, a colorful character and a con man. Around the early 1900s, he began to make his living by claiming he'd found a huge gold deposit in Death Valley and convincing investors to fund his "mine". Needless to say, this had it's ups and downs as a profession, but Albert Johnson, one of the men duped into investing in the nonexistent mine, seems to have decided it was all in good fun and forgave Scotty. Despite his claims, "Scotty's" Castle never belonged to Scotty at all, it was built by Albert Johnson and his wife, Bessie, as a vacation home. They allowed Scotty free run of the place, though, and he entertained the Johnsons and their visitors with his stories for years. I guess the lesson here is it's not really a lie if it's interesting.

And last but not least, Ubehebe Crater. I'm not thrilled with how these pictures turned out, just kind of meh in my opinion. But here's one at least, to give you an idea of the place. If you look closely you can see little black dots on the path into the crater. Those are people. This is one big honkin' hole.

So there's a quick start, I've got some more I will try to get up in the next day or two.