The Bombardment of Algiers

As many of you may already know, I completed my first massive puzzle this past winter; the 5000 piece Ravensburger “Sistine Chapel Ceiling” puzzle. Well, the puzzle-bug has bitten me once again and I am preparing to begin another massive puzzle. This time I have “upped my game” and have chosen to jump to 9000 pieces. The previous 5k puzzle, when completed, measured approx. 3×5 ft… this new puzzle will be nearly twice that size!

The Ravensburger “Bombardment of Algiers” measures an impressive 6×5 ft. and upon completion will proudly hang in the media room adjacent to the previous 5k puzzle. 

I plan to begin this puzzle sometime during the summer and hope to reach completion prior to vacation in late November. I’m not sure how long this will take to complete. If I approach this one the same as the last one it may take about 4 months, but who really knows for sure. 

As always, the primary concern is losing a piece via small mammal interaction. I do plan on sorting pieces prior to embarking on assembly into small roasting tins and storing them safely when not in use. This worked well last time, so I have no reason to suspect this will not be effective. 

Additionally, since the puzzle is broken up into two separate bags of 4,500 pieces I will only be working one “side” at a time which will further protect the project as I don’t plan on opening them both up at once. In fact, I think the greatest peril will be storing a completed half while the other half is being assembled.

I will have to figure out the logistics of storage for a 3×5 ft. section at the halfway point. At this time I am thinking I will sandwich it between layers of cardboard, tape the boards together and then slide it under the bed for safekeeping. 

Anyway, I expect to begin this project sometime next month and will likely drop a few updates here randomly.

Backyard Birding: A Shamanistic Mockingbird

I recently read somewhere that various Shamans claim that seeing a Mockingbird represents the inability for anyone to harm or kill your spirit. Deeper still, the sight of the bird means that you have great power and joy within you and that you still have much to accomplish in this world. It has also been said that the Mockingbird symbolizes faith, integrity, grace and universal love. Fun fact, the state bird of Texas is the… Mockingbird… just thought you should know.

Well, how about that! Having read this somewhere and sometime after falling into a wikipedia and google induced black hole, I thought it would be fun to share some of the Mockingbird pictures I captured the last couple of weeks.

The following are a few of my favorite images that I have captured of this bird. She has a nest somewhere in the scrub tree along the southern fence-line of my backyard so I oftentimes will see her in the mornings when she bathes and visits the back garden. The last couple of weeks I have witnessed her hunting prowess as she has been spotted carrying prey and then eating/dismembering it in the aforementioned garden.

I also managed to catch her after taking a dip in the back waterway along our small green-belt. After her dip she landed along the west fence to prune and menace the small sparrows. I never realized just how raggedy she looks when she is all wet and pruning. Definitely a prettier avian when dry… if I were one of those sparrows and witnessed her gutting that tree roach and squawking I would have flown away in a hurry.

Anyhow, I hope you all spot a Mockingbird in person, because if what they say is true… that would be pretty cool!

Urban Deer in Austin, TX

Having spent the last ten or so years working in Austin, TX, I have to admit it is a big city. Oftentimes long-time locals will refer to the city as a “town.” Granted, many years ago before the construction boom in the late 80’s, Austin was in fact a peaceful capitol and college town. Over the subsequent years the urban center and sprawl has crept to what was once the “hinterlands.”

I have never known Austin as that sleepy college town however I have been fortunate enough to have worked in the “Northwest Hills” portion of the city where there are numerous creeks, green-belts and neighborhoods built back into the woods under a variety of oaks and scrub trees. As you could imagine, this environment is very peaceful and offers a nature enthusiast plenty of unexpected photo-ops.

As an example of an unanticipated photo-op, I was finishing up for the day at work and happened to peer out the window and saw a couple deer lounging under the shade of the oaks beside a dried creek bed. 

Never without a camera of some sort out of reach, I quickly scooped up my iPhone from my chair side drawer and captured a few pictures of those deer. Fortunately for me, we had just had the window washers out the past weekend so the webs and general fogginess of the windows was all but gone.

After I completed the photo-shoot, I just stood quietly and observed them lounging in the shade. Eventually the larger one stood up and moved further into the verge and I lost site of him. Eventually I snapped back to reality and finished cleaning and getting ready for the next days patients. 

Anyway, it is sometimes hard to believe you are in a large city when you have deer meandering around just outside one’s office. Maybe that is another reason why people refer to Austin as a “town.” 

Who Loves Butterflies?

Sometimes the best photo-ops are the ones you never set out to capture. Oftentimes I’ll be sitting on the bench in the backyard and suddenly an unanticipated photo-op occurs. It is these moments that keep me with a camera by my side whenever I am in the yard.

This past weekend while I was shooting images of house finches and house sparrows enjoying the bird sanctuary, I was able to grab a few photos of different butterflies that were fluttering around the small patio garden.

As you have undoubtedly heard, there has been a population and migration decrease of many species of butterfly. Many experts in the fields of climatology and entomology concur that the heavy usage of pesticides and changes in climate have had a severe effect on the population.

Whether you subscribe to climate change or not, one has to admit that the butterfly population is suffering. Like many, I remember being a child and being all but swarmed by butterflies in the spring while playing near gardens and the like. I could have used the work frolic in that last sentence, but little boys don’t frolic… so I didn’t… even though I could have.

Anyway, I was able to capture a few images of various butterflies enjoying the garden and one even landed so close that I was able to capture an image with some great contrast. Oh and a dragonfly landed on the tip of the sundial so I shot him too.

As always, you never know just what you might see in your own backyard. Enjoy!

Paradise is a Beach in Honduras

Imagine lounging on the beach under the shade of palms, the sounds of waves gently lapping along the shoreline all the while sipping on an ice cold domestic beer with a little lime wedge bobbing around inside. During this semi-seaside-siesta, you spot local children peddling conch shells and an old man with a small monkey on his shoulder selling photo-ops. As you fade in and out, time seems to stand still… this is the Tabyana Beach I know and love… this is why Roatán is my favorite Caribbean destination (thus far).

Located on the far western end of Roatán Island, Tabyana Beach has a few resorts and an impressive panorama of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second largest reef system in the world). Like any small private beach, there are seaside massage tables, small tiki bars and all manner of water related activities to choose from. Apparently snorkeling and scuba diving is the biggest draw here as the aforementioned reef is just a short boat ride away. This day however, the water was a bit choppy which kept the small boats docked.

During this particular trip to the island, there was a squall brewing miles off the coast which gave us fairly overcast skies, choppy seas and a heavy scent of rain on the breeze. The incoming storm had slowly chased all the other tourists from the beach and left Kris and I to enjoy the atmosphere in privacy. If I’m not mistaken, we spent about two to three hours lounging in our chairs enjoying cold Barena Beer from the bar. Eventually, the storm was close enough that the locals began to shutdown the shops and rental facilities. At that point both Kris and I decided we ought to catch the last bus back to the port. 

On the bus ride back the driver went through Coxen Hole which is the largest city on the island.   While generally safe, I have to say I don’t think I would want to wander around here alone or at night. Not only is the grid confusing, but some areas looked down-right sketchy and would be easy to get turned around and lost in. We did get off the bus without incident and grabbed a couple of iced coffee floats (which were absolutely divine). 

Anyway, should you ever wind up in Honduras on the island of Roatán, check out Tabyana Beach; you will certainly be glad that you did. Oh, and bring some cash for the peddlers and monkey man.

Photography at 40,000 ft.

Doesn’t that person snapping photos from the window on an airplane annoy the hell out of you? Well, if they do… I’ll offer an apology to you right now cause that person is me. I’ve always loved the perspective, and find that some pretty amazing images can be captured during commercial flight

Over the years I’ve snapped some pretty cool images of both urban and rural landscapes as well as (what I would consider impressive) views of the front range high above Colorado. I mean, why not pull out the iPhone and take a few pictures, what the heck else are you doing? 

Below are a few images I captured from a short trip from Austin to Dallas and another from Austin to Las Vegas that I thought might be fun to share.

Backyard Birding: Our Home Birding Sanctuary

As you already know, I really enjoy nature photography. I enjoy it so much that when I am not out in the “field” with my camera and gear, I will be in the backyard ready and waiting for a photo-op. Yeah, I’m a pretty big camera nerd nowadays. With that said, I decided this past weekend to create a birding sanctuary in the backyard to hopefully create a greater number of photo-ops.

The way our property and home are oriented, the backyard is narrow and long (24’x60’ approx.) which tends to keep birds away when anyone is on the patio as it is in close proximity to the majority of the yard. Having noticed that most of the birds have been loitering around the far end of the yard, I decided that was probably the best place to construct the “sanctuary.”

I began to channel my inner-avian to create a mental image of what would be ideal for the neighborhood birds. I came up with several ideas and began the hunt around the yard and the house for items to implement for this project.

I just love to repurpose items from around the house after they have outlived their usefulness. A few weeks ago our clothes dryer burnt out and had to be replaced, so I’ve had a large appliance taking up space in the garage. After stripping the dryer of parts and pieces, I decided to keep the large drum to paint and use as a planter in the backyard bird sanctuary. I am so frigging clever huh?

Next, I used some landscaping stones that had been stacked away in the corner of the yard to build a small retaining wall around the aforementioned planter. I then moved an unused shepherds hook as well as some plant hanger hooks I’d had in the garage collecting dust into that area of the yard. With things beginning to come together, Kris and I visited the Home Depot and picked out some hanging plants, summer flowers, a bird bath and new bird-feeder (the old one broke horrifically from a close encounter with a diabetic squirrel earlier in the day).

The Backyard Bird Sanctuary with new bird-feeder

With all the items in place, I planted myself on the patio bench with camera in hand and captured some images.

Inexpensive Macro Photography

Having spent the last few weeks birding in the backyard with a zoom lens, I thought it might be fun to change things up and shoot “fixed-macro.” Always on the lookout for a new lens to purchase, I hit Amazon to view the refurbished selection of Canon EFS Macro Lens’ and was shocked by the cost. Turns out that shooting macro is extremely cost prohibitive (even using refurbished equipment).

After reading some articles online, I learned that there are some work-arounds to shooting extreme close up images. Apparently there are these fabulous little gems called “extension tubes” that magnify an image by minimizing the focal distance. The best part, there are so many to choose from and they are a fraction of the cost of an actual dedicated macro lens. I learned that some folks will utilize a fixed portrait lens (24mm) and attach either a 12mm or 20mm extension tube to reduce the focal length thus magnifying an image.

With this knowledge in hand, I went back to Amazon and found a set of extension tubes that covered the range I was looking for and placed my order. About a week later, and with tubes in hand, I set up my pancake 24mm portrait lens with a 12mm extension tube. After a brief trial and error period, I settled on some items around the house to practice with. 

In conclusion, this is a very inexpensive and impressive option to enter the world of macro photography. I’m sure with time and practice one could achieve some high quality images. I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, but you certainly don’t have to be an expert to have a good time!

DTW… A Royal Layover

What, you’re writing about a layover in Detroit? Yes I am, and for a very good reason. I simply love the “Wayne County Airport,” known as DTW. Oftentimes on trips back home to New Hampshire I cheap out and avoid direct flights and instead stop off either in Atlanta or Detroit. Now, if I have a choice, I will pick Detroit every time due to several reasons.

First, DTW shares my initials so I consider it to be “my” airport. Yeah, lame I know.

Second, it is all about Motown. If you have been to the airport and travelled between concourses you have undoubtedly gone down the escalators into the LED tunnels that crank the Motown jams. I’ve always enjoyed the light-show timed to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and The Supremes. 

Third, one of my favorite airport “diners” is located along Concourse A; Cat Cora’s Tap-Room. I swear they have the best Bangers and Mash ever plated and their servers have the innate ability to forecast the completion of a 16oz Guinness and provide a glacial replacement prior to the vessel ever touching the tabletop.

If all that weren’t enough, you can easily get your daily steps in by walking the lengths of each concourse where you will be greeted by some pretty cool bars and cocktail lounges. I believe it was Concourse C that had the restaurant with, by far, the best name, “Earl of Sandwich.” Seriously, what a name… I wonder if there exists somewhere a “Duke of Danish,” or maybe a “Marquess of Mahi Mahi” or better yet a “Viscount of Vindaloo.” I would, without hesitation, dine at any one of those restaurants.

Anyway, I love DTW and will plan my next trip back home to New Hampshire accordingly. I may even dine with royalty next time out.

Hermaphrodite’s Love Dart

I was out in the back garden doing some pruning of the Eunymous and stumbled upon a little snail who was just doing his or her thing. Never one to miss a “photo-op,” I whipped out my camera and grabbed a few images of the little fella. 

I’d be lying if I said I was some kind of “Helix Aspersa” expert, but I may know a thing or two. As a budding mollusk aficionado, I’ve come to learn that this specimen is in fact the most common garden snail in the western world and is known as a “European Brown Garden Snail.”

As all mollusk-enthusiasts know, this particular snail is an air-breather, has one lung and tends to perform most of it’s activity in the evenings or early mornings. Dubbed the Usain Bolt of snails (by me), this little one can travel at speeds of upwards to 1.5cm. per second. Hold onto your hats, cause that comes out to about 15 inches per minute! 

Other Helix Aspersa facts you should know are that these little hard-shelled/soft-bodied specimens eat all manner of organic matter and are fiercely territorial. It is not uncommon for these snails to attack humans or other predators on site. There are many tales of severe injury or even death resulting from run-ins with this particular species. 

Okay, that last little bit was mostly bulls**t. I’ll leave you to figure out which parts…

In regard to reproduction, these gastropods are hermaphroditic. To the un-woke, that means these little ones carry both male and female reproductive organs. According to “,” this doesn’t keep them from mating. Apparently a pair of snails will mate somewhere between… 4 and 12 hours! I’ve included a screen-capture of that fact from because… they use the phrase, “love-dart.”

Anyway, you never know what you are going to find in the nether-regions of ones own garden and what you will learn with further investigation. 

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