Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bird Feeder as Snow Fell 12/29/12

Snow began to fall about 11:20 on Saturday, December, 29. The temperature hovered ± 3ºF freezing. The snow accumulated at a rate of 1" / 25mm per hour for the first two hours.

Several species of birds visited the feeder. Of course the squirrels had their nosed in there, too.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bird Feeder First Anniversary

January 2012

Christmas day it was one year since I hung my new hopper bird feeder with integrated suet cages. I've placed close to 120 lbs/ 54.4kg of sunflower seed chips into that feeder over the last year. 

December 2012

Plus the +/- 8lbs/ 3.6kg black nyjer seeds I put out just for the goldfinches and the few suet cakes for the woodpeckers. In total I probably spent in excess of $300 in bird seed. A small price for the wonder of such beautiful creatures.

source:American Museum of Natural History
Besides, they are my closest link to dinosaurs

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Woodpeckers at Feeder

I placed a new store bought suet block in the bird feeder on December 2. 17 days later I saw a Red-Bellied Woodpecker at the feeder. I have never ever seen a Red-Bellied Woodpecker up close before. It is a beautiful animal.

What I think attracted the woodpecker was that new suet block. I purchased it at Lowe's along with shelled sunflower seeds that I use in the main hopper of the feeder. I like the shelled seeds because there are no shells blowing around the yard or being tracked into the house on damp shoe soles. I digress. 

I must confess. I didn't actually see the woodpecker with my own eyes. I captured photographs of it on my time lapse camera secured to the inside of my breakfast room window. The Brinno TLC 100 is held onto the window by Fat Gecko suction cup camera mount. Any reflections on the glass are because the camera is mounted inside the house. Last year it was mounted outside and there were no reflection. This year I am lazy. The batteries need to be changed everyday and I don't wish to go outside to do that.

Above you will see several clips of Downy Woodpeckers at the feeder throughout the day. Individual photographs were taken at 5 second intervals and are played back at 50% of full speed. All of the clips on this post were taken on 19 December 2012.

At one point a Downy Woodpecker is feeding at the same time as a squirrel. That is the only bird I have ever seen at the feeder with a squirrel. I think that bird is either brave or hungry.

All About Birds - Red-Bellied Woodpecker
All About Birds - Downy Woodpecker
Lowe's Woodpecker Suet

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Geminid Meteor Showers

©Kevin Adams -
Meteor showers fascinate me. Shooting stars streaking through the sky.  Laying out at night or in the early morning looking up into the heavens. I love it.

In my part of the world, the meteor shower season begins in August. It kind of works out that there is a shower near each of my relatives birthdays. That makes it easy for me to remember when a shower will occur. The next shower happens on my second son's birthday, December 13th. 

I have set my camera on a tripod in my back yard, in the past, to try and capture some images of the streaking particles. However, my suburban community is quite polluted with lights from parking lots and the near by county and state prisons. I need to get away to a light free area like the middle of a desert or high on a mountain top or on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean somewhere. Someday.

With that all out of my system, I was notified via email today of a short lesson on how to photograph meteor showers and I want to pass that on to you. Below is the link. Dress for the cold and get out and enjoy nature's fireworks.

How to photograph meteor showers

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Good Day in Valley Forge Park

I was in Valley Forge Park the other day hoping to capture some images before sunset. When I set outat 16:15, the clouds were dramatically lit, but by the time I reached the park the sun was already below the hills to the west and no direct sunlight reached the ground.

White Tailed Deer  buck checking the wellbeing of his doe downhillAs I drove along South Inner Line Drive, I noticed in my rear view mirror behind me several deer descended the hill, crossed the drive and continued down towards the log huts near PA rte 252. I got out of my car to grab a photo of the fallen tree that I thought was blown down by Super Storm Sandy. Once out of my car the one buck trailing the doe stopped, just behind the fallen tree. Even though it saw me, it didn't flee. It was watching me. It seemed to be guarding his doe. It stayed there for a few minutes, watching, guarding.

At that point in time there were several thoughts going through my head.

  1. Don't get too close to this deer with sharp horns on its head
  2. It is rutting season and the buck is in a possessive mood
  3. It might attack me
  4. An attack would cause pain
  5. I don't like pain
  6. This could be dangerous
  7. This is exciting
  8. There is no one else around
  9. If I were lying on the ground in pain and bleeding could I get to my mobile phone easily
  10. If all else fails and I am on the ground in pain and bleeding, the park ranger will find me when he closes the drive after dark
  11. My health care is paid up
  12. I hope my camera isn't damaged in the impending attack
I turned to find a location along the drive to capture a few photographs of the log huts. A car to two drove past as I had the camera to my eye. When I looked back towards the fallen tree, the buck was gone. I shed no blood and had a few photographs, my camera was still in good condition and the buck had his doe. It was a good day.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Saturday, December 8, 2012

South Inner Line Drive Redoubt

I returned to Valley Forge Park one week after the first appreciable snowfall in the autumn of 2012. A big change. No snow. 

The two log huts are the same buildings I photographed with snow on the ground. This time from a different point of view, looking SSW down from South Inner Line Drive.

The sun was already below the hills to the west as I traveled a little bit down the drive. There I found redoubt #3, as listed on the official Valley Forge National Historical Park map. Near the redoubt were the two cannon seen below.

Looking S from near the redoubt on S Inner Line Drive.
Looking ESE with the redoubt in the near background looking E from the bottom of S Inner Line Drive.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Philadelphia's Capricious Weather

I once read in a travel guide that Philadelphia has capricious weather. I am not sure if that is true all year long. This last week the weather has been a coaster ride. We received snow November 27 and one week later the temperature was 65ºF / 18ºC. I had the snow brush in the car and I was wearing short pants. That hasn't happened since last spring, when I was too lazy to put the snow brush away in the garage.

If it doesn't chill down soon the spring flowering trees will begin to bud.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Saturday, December 1, 2012

First Snow Valley Forge Park

I found time to visit Valley Forge National Historical Park to capture the first appreciable snowfall for the fall of 2012 on 27 Nov. All the roads that run through the park were barricaded by the park rangers except PA rtes 23 and 252. I could walk into the park but not drive. Some of the parking lots were cleared of snow and open. I chose to park in the lot near Knox's Quarters, also know as Valley Forge Farm, along rte 252. These photographs were taken within easy walking distance from that lot.
PA rte 252 looking southbound towards the Outer Line Defenses
Valley Forge Farm  (Knox's Quarters) along PA rte 252

Valley Forge Farm (Knox's Quarters) from the north
Valley Forge Farm (Knox's Quarters) from the south
Log huts across from Knox's Quarters along PA rte 252 and J.P. Martin Trail seen from the trail along 252
Log huts seen from J.P. Martin Trail along South Outer Line Drive
PA rte 252 looking north from J.P. Martin Trail terminus in parking lot near Knox's Quarters

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Views in Oaks, PA

Intersection of Egypt and Black Rock Roads from Bob Evans parking lot
For well over five years there has been talk of more commercial building on Egypt Road, in Oaks, PA. In the last month there is evidence of such development. The wooded lot was cleared between Black Rock Rd. and US 422 on the west side of Egypt Rd.

Looking east from Black Rock Road towards US 422
The talk on the street is that a Chicago Grill will be the first restaurant built. Originally Chili's was to go in first, but what ever reason, they delayed their efforts. Chili's may still be built but Chicago Grill will be ringing the register first.

Across Black Rock Road from the Chicago Grill site is the reputed site of a Super Wawa, and some restaurant(s)/commercial buildings. This site was cleared well over two years ago and has laid fallow for as long. There was some infrastructure work done over that time, but not much. The lot includes the Oaks Gardens business at the very far edge of the photograph. Oaks Gardens will be history when work begins in ernest.

So much time has past since the original Wawa development sign went up that it has since blown down. There doesn't seem to be any urgent reason to reinstall it.

If I may go back to the Chicago Grill site for a moment, I want to mention the view of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. I am not sure if this view of the church was ever available. There were quite a few trees between Egypt Rd. and the church. The view is available now and it is quite a sight. 

Enjoy it while it lasts. Neon will block the view soon enough.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Buffet with Sides of Veggies

Thanksgiving Buffet 
This Thanksgiving dinner was hosted by my sister-in-law in her wonderful home a stone's throw from The Main Line. This year, dinner was served buffet style. Twenty-some people were expected to attend. Each family was to bring part of the dinner. Our family, there were to be only two of us as our children were either in London or working at the Movie Tavern, were expected to bring two side dishes - a spaghetti squash dish and candied carrots. You would think that would be easy. I never do anything the easy and I do the cooking.

I am known to not follow a recipe exactly as written. As a matter of fact, there are few times I make anything the same way twice. Plus, I like to try new recipes no matter how important the occasion.

My wife expected the spaghetti squash dish to simply contain tomato sauce and cheese along with the obvious spaghetti squash. She also expected the candied carrots to be just like frozen in the supermarket. I expected better than that. So I was off to the internet to find some recipes.

I follow a few food blogs. One of them is The Pioneer Woman who has a cooking show on the Food Network on Saturdays. On her show last week she made green beans with whole canned tomatoes. I thought that sounded good.

I also Googled "spaghetti squash" and found several other recipes using, feta cheese, ricotta cheese, spinach and nutmeg, none of which I have ever used in my spaghetti squash. So I synthesized my new recipe from all the above sources. Here is what I came up with.

3lb/ 1.36kg spaghetti squash
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
15oz/ 425g ricotta cheese
1 beaten egg
1lb/ 453g mozzarella cheese, shredded 
1/2 cup Romano cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cans of diced tomatoes, unseasoned
1 lb chopped raw baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Cut the squash in half length-wise, remove seeds, place in baking pan cut side down and pour 1" water into pan. Bake at 400ºF/ 205ºC until done.
Throw the chopped onion and minced garlic in a saute/frying pan on low-medium heat until the onions are just showing some golden brown color.
While baking squash, mix the onions, garlic, ricotta, beaten egg, 1/3 shredded mozzarella, 1/4 cup Romano, chopped spinach, diced tomatoes, salt, pepper and nutmeg in an enormous bowl.

When squash is finished baking turn over and pull a fork across the flesh from blossom end to stem end and create spaghetti-like fibers. Mix then into the cheese/tomato mixture until blended. Transfer everything to a casserole pan. Evenly spread the remaining mozzarella across the top of the pan. Spread the remaining Roman over top of mozzarella.

Bake at 350ºF /176ºC for about 25 minutes or until the cheeses are bubbling and browned in places.

I thought it was good, but then I was invested.

The recipes for candied carrots were also researched on the web. I was looking for a more interesting recipe, a thicker sauce than just brown sugar and butter. I like orange marmalade. I thought the orange would complement the sweetness of the carrots. I decided to use orange marmalade in my candied carrots. Below is my final recipe for candied carrots.

4lb / 1.8kg baby carrots
1 cup orange marmalade
6 Tablespoons cold water
4 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, I only buy unsalted so I can add my own salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons corn starch
4 oz Imperial whiskey

Steam carrots until hot and still firm

While steaming carrots mix:
marmalade, 4 Tablespoons water, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt, pepper and nutmeg into a sauce pan. Heat while stirring or whisking the ingredients in the pan until blended.
In a small bowl whisk 4 Tablespoons of water with 2 Tablespoons of corn starch until smooth.
Slowly add the corn starch and water mix to the sauce pan while continuously stirring. Continue to stir and heat the mixture for an additional five minutes as the sauce thickens.
Turn off heat, add the whiskey and stir until combined.

Drain steamed carrots, place in a large bowl. Add in all sugar mix from sauce pan and mix to cover all carrots.

One of the recipes I found on the web called for the addition of rum to the mix. I only had a few liquors in the house and rum was not one of them. Of the two single malt scotches, gin, Kahlua, tequila, red vermouth and Imperial whiskey, I thought the Imperial would work the best.

Again, I thought it tasted good. On the other hand, I thought blue cheese vodka would taste good.

To make a long story short, and let's not mention the fact that I ended up being "Drunk Uncle in the Corner", the meal was a success. Everyone liked my spaghetti squash and candied carrots. Or at least that is what I think they were telling me. 

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Autumn Leaves - Blow Then Suck

On my less than .5 acre/2,024sq meters of property stand 10 large trees. Half are in my front yard. There is a beech, an ash a dogwood, hickory and a huge Norway Maple. The leaves that fall from these trees are vital to the my composting for the garden.

To start the composting process, I blow the leaves into piles. The leaves are then vacuumed, which shreds them as they pass the impeller inside the blower/vacuum. They are then hauled out to the back yard and dumped into the compost pile.

I started about noon to collect the leaves one bright and warm November day. Four hours later, I had the leaves from the main portion of my front yard blown into a serpentine pile across the lawn. 

There were also two piles in the road that I hoped wouldn't be blown away by the vehicular traffic. Big trucks, especially, have a way of relocating leaves. My back ached and my hand was showing signs of a blister. That was it for me until morning.

In the morning I changed the leaf blower over to a vacuum. The part of the blower that took in air the day before became the part that took in leaves. The part of the blower from which blew air would blow leaves.

Originally when I purchased the leaf blower/vacuum, a shoulder bag was supplied to collect the shredded leaves. A bag that became heavier as it filled with shredded leaves. The collection bag soon became cumbersome. If I needed to change hands, which happens often, I also needed to change shoulders. The bag needed to be emptied frequently, too, because it didn't hold that much volume. 

I didn't put up with that for very long. I returned to the home improvement store, from which I purchased the blower/vacuum, to look for an alternative to the shoulder bag collection method. There I found a different manufacturer had a collection kit that included a length of flexible hose connected to a cloth that fit over the opening of a trash can.

Here is how it works. The blower vacuums the leaves, shreds them and sends them through the flexible tubing depositing them into an upright trash can. A can that could support all the weight. It would also hold five times the volume of the shredded leaves as would the shoulder bag. That meant there was five times less emptying of the bag. Pretty simple. I bought the kit.

Leaf Vacuum System

There was one problem. The parts from the two manufactures weren't compatible. I had to jury rig them to work together. That was taken care of with the help of duct tape.

I put the two openings together - hose to vacuum. Two long strips of tape were placed 180º around the tube from each other across the joint. Then several longer strips were placed radially around the tube and vacuum to create the seal and hold down the initial two strips. It has worked for over ten years, so far.

In four hours the serpentine pile and one of the piles in the road were vacuumed, shredded, hauled to the back yard and dumped into the waiting bin. Shredding the leaves sure does reduce the volume. It also accommodates and speeds their composting.

The next step is to get bacteria to do their job making compost.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Monday, November 19, 2012

Visit Czerw's a Must Kielbasa Experience

I had a photography assignment in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia late last week. One of my first thoughts, kielbasa, a sausage made of pork, garlic and a few spices stuffed into natural casing, smoked or fresh. When I was a child we bought, ate and hand made kielbasa in our kitchen in South Philadelphia. On this date my thoughts were of kielbasa made by Czerw's on Tilton St., less than a mile from my assignment. A visit to Czerw's is an experience not to be missed.

Photo credit:Google Maps
Just off the I-95 Allegheny Ave exit. No signs direct you. You just need to know how to find the small shop on Tilton St. just south of E. Ontario St. 

The shop is in an honest hard working class neighborhood of small streets lined with row houses, affordable houses and little legal parking.

As you turn the corner onto Tilton St. you get your first whiff of burning wood, burning wood and meat. Less than 100'/30.48m from the corner is the unassuming factory, smokehouse and retail shop of Czerw's from which the appetizing aroma emanates.

There were no lines of people waiting to make a purchase at Czerw's when I visited the last Friday before Thanksgiving. Well, Thanksgiving is not a traditional Polish food holiday. Christmas, Easter those are traditional Polish food holidays. On the weeks leading up to those holidays lines of people flow out the door and down Tilton St. On some days the line turns the corner onto E. Ontario St. as people patiently wait for kielbasa, kabanosa, kiszka, krakowska, perogi, chrischicki and babka.

Upon entering the shop the pungent odor of smoke and meat thickens. Where the sunlight steams through the windows the air appears just slightly blue from the smoke. The meat case captures the majority of my attention. Within are all kinds of sausages draped, coiled and arranged in pans inside the unevenly lit case. There are descriptive labels taped to the glass for each stuffed meat. "Keep the Vampires Away - Smoked Extra Garlic Kielbasa", "Our Hot Kabanos aka Hot Sticks", "'Our Hotter Than Hell' - Hot Sausage Links -'For Those That Like It Hot' ". All a great help to the uninitiated.

In a separate vertical refrigerated case are pirogies. Some pirogies are filled with traditional fillings of potato, potato and cheese, sauerkraut and meat with onions and mushrooms. The Kielbasy Boys, which the Czerw boys call themselves have creatively fused their line of Polish foods with other cuisines. Existing in Philadelphia, just 6 miles/9.6K from Pat's King of Steaks, the Boys fill pirogies with cheese steak. Other creative fillings are bacon and cheddar, pepperoni and cheddar, Cajun chicken and Buffalo chicken. I've tasted them all and recommend each and every flavor.

The Boys recommend warming their perigees in a deep puddle of butter in a frying pan. Diced onions may be added to the butter to increase the savoy flavor. If you are like me and don't like them crispy, heat them over low heat in a covered pan until they are just warm.

I asked permission to photograph the meat case for this blog. Upon hearing that, I was offered the opportunity into the work area to see a new fire that was recently started. Being a polite person, I couldn't refuse.

The room was dark for photography without a flash but I was able to capture the fire in a brick stall where the meat was to be smoked. Stacks of apple and cherry wood were close at hand in wheeled carts. Immersed in smoke near the wood fire with hanging meat nearby, I could hardly appear polite for very long. I desired meat. I needed smoked meat.

Back in the shop I purchased four dozen perigees - cheese steak, Buffalo chicken and cheese and potato. I also purchased three pounds smoked kielbasa and one pound smoked Cajun kielbasa wrapped in individual pound packages. Two of the four packages will be presents for friends out in the Valley Forge area. Friends who don't get into Philadelphia much. Friends in need of a kielbasa fix.

There were other items for sale in the shop including pickled green tomatoes and Zayda's prepared horseradish. I bought some Zayda's but my desire to eat some kielbasa drove me to leave the shop. Once in my car I snapped off a chunk of the kielbasa. The heady odor of smoky meat and garlic filled my nostrils and taxed the Fabreze deodorizer in my car. My desire was fulfilled. My need vanquished by smoke, meat and garlic.

Although the food that Czerw's produces is great, a visit to the shop is a must experience, I promise, you will never forget.


©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved