Exotic Birds

Today while I was out riding my bike I saw a Peacock! I was going to title this post “Unusual Birds”, but since I’ve been seeing a peacock at that same spot every now and then for years, it’s not really that unusual. Plus, exotic is really more descriptive anyway.

I would have taken a picture, but he lives beside a nice little down-hill on a fairly heavily trafficked road. And you know… bike riding, particularly on the fixed-gear, is all about preservation of momentum.

Geese Update

Well, apparently the geese-chasing dogs actually arrived sometime last week. Looking back, I can’t recall the last day when I actually saw geese at the park. I’m a little bummed about the whole thing. Mainly because I don’t think I’ll ever actually get to see the dogs chase the geese, as I have a feeling this is primarily an early morning activity. Secondly, I’ll actually miss the geese. I really enjoyed hearing and seeing them arrive each morning, and depart each evening, locked in their precise formations.

I would really have no quarrel at all with the geese if they:

A) Weren’t so aggressively obnoxious.
B) Didn’t shit so damned much, everywhere! (2 pounds a day per goose!)
C) Hadn’t become year-round residents, rather than passing through twice a year during migration (like they’re supposed to!).

Geese: Majestic waterfowl or feathered vermin?

So, the park next to my house has (for the last several years) been over-run with “wild” Canada Geese. Over the past few years the city has tried a variety of solutions to drive these obnoxious feathered fecal factories away. First they put up loudspeakers which would periodically (day and night) broadcast a recorded goose alarm call. This was quite effective initially, but the geese eventually caught on and their ranks swelled once more (on a side note; it took longer for me than it did for the geese to realize the calls were pre-recorded. I spent many late-night hours wondering what had the geese so worked up).

Then they tried placing floating plastic crocodile heads in the “lagoon”. These seemed to have little or no effect on the geese, though they did make me giggle. (Crikey! That’s one big disembodied crocodile head!) Now the city is playing for keeps. They’ve enlisted the services of a company called “Goose Be Gone”. Specially trained border collies (with their handlers) will patrol the park five days a week for three months, theoretically driving the geese away for good.

Can geese count? I think it would be hysterical if the geese realized that the dogs were only there on weekdays and they returned en masse on the weekends. All I know is, I can’t wait for the goose-chasing dogs to arrive, that is going to be some first-rate free entertainment.

I Need a Smaller Camera

As I was getting ready to head out for a bike ride yesterday, I thought about bringing my digital camera, but decided not to, primarily because it doesn’t fit very comfortably into a jersey pocket, plus I was getting a late start and figured I wouldn’t really have time to take pictures, anyway.

Once I got out into the countryside I noted that the birds seemed especially active. First it was groups of Barn Swallows swooping down, time and again to catch bugs, then the Goldfinches were out en masse to flaunt their brilliant summer plumage.

Then as I rounded the sharp left-hand curve riding west on Stewart, there they were. Two fawns, contentedly munching grass in the field to my right, just beyond the split rail fence. They didn’t seem particularly concerned with my presence, so I stopped to watch them for a bit, expecting their mother to come rushing out to escort them to safety at any moment. A few minutes passed, their mother was still nowhere to be seen, and the youngsters’ grazing was actually bringing them closer to me, so I decided to ride a bit further around the curve to give them some space then went back to watching them. A few more minutes passed, a few cars drove by, and the two little deer continued to eat, despite my admonishment that they were supposed to be afraid of me and really should be running away.

Today I went for a ride again; same exact course, same time of day, same weather. The only difference was that today I decided to shoe-horn my camera into my pocket; well, that and the fact that were only a very few run-of-the-mill type birds to be seen, and, of course, no deer.

I did see the same lady walking by the park who just scowled at me yesterday when I said “Howdy” to her. Today I didn’t say anything. She scowled. Maybe I should have taken her picture.

Ahh… Summer!

So, today around 2:30 I took a quick ride to the Post Office; the plan being that when I returned I would eat, change into “bike clothes” then go for a real ride.

The eating and changing clothes part of the plan went real well, then came a big booming clap of thunder, followed almost immediately by torrential rain. This cast the going for a ride part of my plan into doubt.

Undeterred, I checked the various online weather radars at my disposal and estimated that the rain would be over in plenty of time to still get my ride in. Sure enough, the rain didn’t last long and by 6:30 the wind was doing a fine job of drying the roads out.

So, off I went. I’m not sure if it was because of the earlier downpour, the still threatening looking skies, or what, but traffic was surprizingly sparse. Another welcome touch was that the rain had brought the temperature way down. Riding to the Post Office earlier it was in the upper 80’s, after the rain it was a cool 67!

As is often the case, the storm had gotten the wildlife stirred up. I encountered a bunny, and a group of six Goldfinches paralleled my path for about 40 yards or so. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; any ride with Goldfinches is a good ride.

I had intended on going for a nice, leisurely spin, but the ominous, low-hanging, dark gray, foreboding clouds surrounding me on 3 sides added impetus to my pedaling and I got in a good fast ride instead, rushing to get home before the clouds changed their minds.

That’s the sort of “Summer Shower” that I don’t mind, although my opinion changes dramatically when I’m caught out in one of these passing downpours.

Shat Upon

So, today as I was rolling out on my ride, I happened to glance at the Madonna del Ghisallo medallion which adorns my bike’s stem. At that precise moment my cyclocomputer, stem, and the edge of said medallion were splattered with bird poop.

I’m not sure, but I think there’s a good chance that the little atheistic avian bastard is going to Hell for defiling a religious symbol like that.

Suburban Wildlife (Hawk vs. Squirrel)

So, this morning at work I happen to look out the back door and perched on the 3′ high chain-link fence at the edge of the yard is a young Cooper’s Hawk. Then I see the gray squirrel blithely going about his squirrel business right in front of me, just beyond the patio and think: “Uh-oh… That hawk is about to kill that squirrel, and I’ve got a front row seat.”

Sure enough, I wasn’t the only one watching the squirrel and Mr. Hawk swoops low across the yard and makes a grab for Mr. Squirrel who retreats under a nearby bush. Undeterred the hawk (now on foot) flares his wings and tries to flush the squirrel out. A couple of times the hawk does manage to drive the squirrel from under the bush and tries to pounce on him, but each time the squirrel dashes safely back under the bush. The hawk then flew back to his perch on the fence to re-evaluate the situation.

I watched, transfixed, as the squirrel casually strolled into the (very exposed) center of the yard, proudly carrying some sort of a nut. Again the hawk swoops across the yard and the squirrel runs for the trees and bushes at the rear fence line. The hawk cuts him off and again plunges down at him when the squirrel suddenly springs straight up about three feet into the air! Three or four times the hawk jumps back into the air and attempts to drop on the squirrel and each time the squirrel springs straight up, like some sort of spring-loaded cartoon character. Finally the squirrel jumps onto the top of the fence near the safety of some tall bushes and the hawk gives up, flying straight toward me and passing low over the house.

It was truly breathtaking watching this drama play out right in front of me (much of it within 10 feet of me). I can’t help but feel that Mr. Squirrel’s brash behavior won’t turn out as well if he’s faced with an older, savvier hawk. In the meantime, however, he has a heck of a tale to tell all of his squirrel buddies down at the squirrel hardware store (or wherever it is that they go to swap stories).

Starlings

Years ago, living in Chattanooga, my house was invaded by Starlings. They found a hole in the eave and built a nest, essentially in my bathroom ceiling. You know how they say “the early bird gets the worm”? Well, I do not want the worm, nor do I get up early, unless I’m going fishing or something, in which case I will gladly purchase the worms from the ‘early bird’. Unfortunately, my little avian invaders and I weren’t on the same page in this regard. They were definately early risers, and noisy little buggers to boot.

I tried ignoring them, I tried chasing them away, finally they pushed me beyond rational thought and I went to K-mart, bought a pellet gun, hunted them down, and killed them (then returned the pellet gun for a refund… take that, K-mart!)

Now, if these had been Robins, Cardinals, Wrens or any other of a multitude of ‘good’ birds, I would have called whoever you call about such things and tried to have them relocated.

But they weren’t, they were Starlings! Introduced, non-native avian vermin pushing out the native songbirds, looking ugly and making way too much noise.

Anyway, I’m telling you that story to set up this story, from Chattanoogan.com:

Grape Attacks On Starlings Begins Monday Evening
posted September 9, 2005

The attack on swarms of starlings in downtown Chattanooga begins next Monday evening, City Forester Gene Hyde said.

Continuing for three straight nights, the city of Chattanooga will be using the services of a company called “Flockfighters” which specializes in dispersing populations of nuisance birds. The goal is to try to persuade the starlings to find new roosting sites away from sensitive downtown locations, it was stated.

For approximately 30 minutes each night around dusk Flockfighters will be fogging selected starlings roosts with a food grade ingredient which is derived from Concord grapes. This material persuades the birds to leave the area. The effects are temporary and felt only by birds. Humans and other mammals may detect a pleasant grape scent but are not otherwise affected, officials said.

Because the small fogging machines are quite loud, the city will divert pedestrian traffic around the treatment areas for the 30 minutes these machines are in use.

Fogging operations will be conducted in the following areas:

1. The intersection of Broad and Second Streets.

2. The 1200 block of Market Street.

I’m curious to see how well this works. Although, somehow I don’t think I would have derived the same sick pleasure from spraying the little bastards with grape juice that I did from shooting them. But that’s just me. Plus when you’re dealing with tens or even hundreds of thousands; well, that’s just too much shooting.

Late Night Ride Report

So, last night around 2AM I headed out for a ride. It was much cooler than it has been, actually necessitating tights and armwarmers.

As always everything is very serene and quiet, especially out in the country. I come to a stop sign and there’s a car approaching from my left (the direction I’ll be turning). I decide to wait for him to pass, despite there being plenty of time for me to go. He briefly flashes a searchlight in my direction, (it’s a county cop) then pulls along side to speak to me. He asks if I’ve seen a couple of guys on dirtbikes (which I took to mean motorcycles).

“Nope, sure haven’t.”
“Well we’ve had a report of a couple of dirtbikes flying up and down this road, I don’t know if they have lights or not, so be careful and watch out.”
“OK”

And we went our seperate directions. As I’m riding away, something dawns on me; if there had been dirtbikes (or any other vehicles, for that matter) “flying up and down that road” at any time during the last 30 minutes, I would surely have heard them. Remember, these are quiet country roads, you can hear a motorcycle or a loud car miles away. This pointed to only three conclusions that I could think of.

A) The ‘dirtbikes’ were a fabrication, a mere pretense to speak to me and see what I was up to.
B) Some dimwit called the police because I was terrorizing the area, gliding along silently on my fixed gear (if I were up to something, would I be so well illuminated?)
C) There were actual dirtbikes, but it took the Sheriff’s Department so long to respond that they were long gone by the time he arrived.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, I saw/said hello to:
1 Deer (who ambled across the road ahead of me)
1 Bunny (who dashed across the road ahead of me)
1 Raccoon (bumbling along the edge of the road)
1 Cat (sitting at the edge of the road, watching, disinterested, as I passed)
Assorted cows and horses (going about their cow and horse business)
1 Sheriff’s Deputy (the only one who actually spoke back to me)

Meditation on Wheels

It’s been crazy hot here in Ohio (relatively speaking). Last weekend was the first time since August of 2003(!) that the temperature has hit 90°(F). This past week it was hot and humid every day, which of course didn’t didn’t keep me off the bike. Wednesday night (Thursday morning, whatever… it’s all a matter of perspective) around 3am I decided to put the light on the Pista and hit the road. It was about 70°, just a bit of wind, clear, a perfect night for a ride.

Whenever I get out and ride at night like this I always wonder “why don’t I do this more often?” It is so peaceful and so easy to get into a very meditative space, especially riding the fixed-gear, with that special sense of connectedness and the oh-so quiet drivetrain.

Within the first few minutes my mind is completely cleared. There is nothing but me, the bike, the road, and the night. Narrow country roads lined with glittering fields of fireflies, groups of deer looking back curiously at me as I whiz past, other mysterious glowing eyes peering back at me from the darkness. The only sounds aside from the sounds of the night are the wind in my ears, the hum of my tires on the pavement, and the whir of the chain, with my breath and heartbeat laying down the rhythm. My only thought; (aside from awe and wonder) a simple mantra I picked up years ago from an article by photographer Dewitt Jones (I forget to whom he credited it); “Take it all in… Give it all back” in time with my breathing (“It” isn’t just the air, it’s everything).

At one point, I’m so overcome by the beauty of the night that I have to stop and soak it in for a while. Stopped on a dark country road, above me a blanket of twinkling stars, all around me fields full of fireflies… all is right in my world.

When I can’t stand the majesty any longer I ride back into town, slowing to say hello to the big fat raccoon lingering (for no apparent reason) in the middle of the street next to the park by my house. It’s now after 4AM, I bring the bike in, shower, and put the headlight’s battery on the charger. With my batteries now fully recharged, I climb into bed and drop into a contented blissful sleep.

Ah, the healing powers of the bicycle

All week I’ve been feeling down. No energy, just blah. Then it dawned on me, the reason for this was, I hadn’t ridden my bike since I rode home from work Monday morning. (I work 3rd shift and my schedule is such that from 9PM Friday til 9AM Monday, I get 40 hours in).

Tuesday it was quite warm (60-ish) but the wind was also gusting to 55mph, not a good day for a ride. Been there, done that, it’s really no fun. Riding with a 50mph wind is a blast, but riding across it or into it really, really bites.

Fast forward to 1:30 Friday morning. It’s 45(F) and damp… fog bordering on misty drizzle (which I really enjoy riding in… makes the lungs happy). I layer on the appropriate garments, put the headlight on the fixed gear (my 2004 Bianchi Pista…. oh how I love that bike) and off we go. Riding a fixed gear in the dead of night with just enough fog to add mystery to the landscape is like magic. There’s nothing but you, the bike, and the road and the three of you are inextricably linked. Magic, pure and simple.

While I was out I saw two animals. The first was either a black and white kitty, or a skunk, I didn’t slow down for a better look. The second was a bunny who enjoyed pacing me at about 20mph for around 50 yards (as they so often seem to).

45 minutes later I was home feeling better than I have all week, and wondering why I didn’t do it sooner.