Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Solar power & politics

I've taken a small break from the virtual vacation while I deal with negotiating the sale of our house. But this crossed my email desk today, and I thought it worth sharing as we head into voting time.

US Solar boom requires policy and money, not sunshine is the headline of the article. It discusses the climate needed to quickly grow alternative energy, and the role of government in accelerating the development of a new industry.

I particularly like this quote from the article:

Exhibit A for such a phenomenon is Germany. With about as much sunshine as Maine, the European nation became the world's solar stronghold through policies that rewarded homeowners, businesses, and farmers for generating their own electricity.

Click on the link above to read the whole thing.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Virtual Vacation: A day in Squamish

On Tuesday, we went to Squamish. We had planned that outing for Wednesday since that was the sunny day in the week's forecast, but the clouds changed their minds, so we did the same. I had a page from the web about birding the Squamish Estuary so we started at the location given there. I was wanting to take more heron pictures so I wanted to be close to the water. Unfortunately for me, the part of the trail closest to our parking space went through the marshy parts. The other bird on my wish list for this vacation was a Golden Eagle. I've never seen one, and they like rural mountainous areas so I had hopes. Instead, this was the first bird I saw.

Yes, that's right, it's a Turkey Vulture. I thought they'd all headed south by now, but this one was soaring overhead, keeping an eye on a Northern Harrier hunting below it. The Harrier was too fast for me to get a good shot but I ended up seeing one in two different locations so I got some nice looks.

It turned out to be a day for common birds. First, a couple of Stellar's Jays near where I saw the vulture, some ducks in the river, and multiple views of this little brown bird, most likely a savannah sparrow. I took his picture since I haven't been doing regular birdwalks so my ability to id sparrows is almost completely gone. Small digression: it turns out sparrows and gulls are two of the hardest categories of birds to id since they all mostly look alike with only small differences in color, streakiness or bill colors. In case you've ever wondered how any sane person could worry about which particular sparrow they're seeing, this is why - it's challenging, like doing the NYTimes crossword puzzle in ink.

After backtracking back to the car, we broke for lunch. We had a really nice meal at Parkside Restaurant, where the soup of the day was a fabulous bean soup with duck and turkey sausage. I barely had room for my bunless burger, but I managed. *burp* After lunch, we crossed the street behind the restaurant because I wanted some photos of the amazing rock face. Again, wires in the way, but still a wonderful view.

Next, we strolled the shops along Cleveland. We stopped first at a small chocolate shop for dessert, got directions to the appropriate place to buy a sketchbook (Garibaldi Graphics, which carries office supplies and has a really nice art supply corner in the back) and finished up with a stop at The Nature Nest which I wish we'd seen before we started birding. They not only had a map better than what I'd gotten off the web, but also had birding checklists for the Squamish Estuary, Whistler and the larger Squamish area including the Upper Howe Sound region.

We headed off to an area just northwest of downtown that looked promising for more water birds. It turned out to be right next to the high school and a skateboard park so it was an interesting walk through shady woods hopping with birds with the sounds of the skateboarders carrying from the park. I did get an unexpected life bird: a black-throated gray warbler. Being a warbler, she refused to hold still long enough for a picture, but I got lots of great looks, certainly enough to tell that the throat was white, which made it a girl.

This walk wasn't enough to satisfy my heron cravings, so armed with new maps, we returned to our previous parking spot and I walked the other way on the trails. I ended up down by the shipping area, where I was about to give up, when I saw a flock of geese and decided to give them a look. I saw them and a sentinel that made me think of a flock of sheep with a guarding dog. (Click on the picture to get a better view of the heron, altho he was looking straight at me so the head looks odd.)

Thus ended the birding part of the day with me being a very happy girl. We decided to try a restaurant named 21 Steps when we got back to Whistler. Just as at The Keg, the hostess was quite happy to escort me to the elevator so I didn't have to actually climb steps to get to dinner. They had a lovely menu, with a dinner special of an item from the Small Plates, a Big Plate and dessert for $35 so we went with that. Our meal was enlivened by a woman at a neighboring table jumping up and exclaiming "Look! There's a bear!" Yes, indeed there was, and he was walking down the pedestrian walkway in the Village. I was quite pleased to be on the second floor where I could view the bear and then enjoy my dinner in peace and quiet. The food was excellent, the service was too, and all in all, it was a great day.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Virtual Vacation: Chilliwack BC, heron sanctuary

We're back from our lovely vacation in British Columbia which I was unable to share in real-time as I forgot the cable for the camera. So, instead, I'll be doing a virtual vacation retroactively as I process the pictures. It makes it much easier to find things later if I take the time to put the keywords into Bridge, but it does take some time upfront. Adobe Bridge, however, makes it really easy as I can keyword all the photos from one day at a time, or any subset actually. But I digress...

Our first day of vacation was spent visiting the Great Blue Heron Sanctuary in Chilliwack, BC. This is not actually on the way to Whistler (our final destination) from Bellevue, but how could I resist either the chance at multiple herons or the chance to visit a place named Chilliwack? So, off we went, east into the Fraser Valley. Mapquest dropped the directions in Chilliwack itself, so we ended up stopping at Fred's Fishing store where the owner was amazingly helpful and kind. Part of why we always enjoy visiting Canada. Once we found the heron place, we got no more than about 30 yards down the first trail when we spotted a heron right beside the bank. Since he was being fairly active, I settled down to take lots of photos, getting the first one of him from across the pond.

Then I was diverted by a green heron who flew across the pond when I walked too close to his fishing location near the trail while trying for a better angle on the big guy.

We continued on the closest trail, heading toward a bird blind where I hoped to see more herons without them being able to see me. The two in the closest pond weren't very happy about all my photo taking antics so I wanted to give them a break.

While on the trail, we noticed dozens of frogs leaping into ponds as we approached. Since I have a piece in mind with a heron hunting, I loved the idea of getting a picture of one of the frogs. I lucked out a bit later on the trail when a frog decided to hide in a large puddle in the middle of the path. I was able to sneak up right next to him and get this shot from almost directly overhead.

We found no other herons down that trail, so we backtracked, and the one great blue that I'd been stalking and photographing had moved into a marshy area to hide in the reeds, grasses, and such. I liked how he looked in there, his head looking snakelike so I bothered him a bit more and got this shot.

We walked a bit more down another trail but then some serious rain started so we decided it was time to move on to Whistler. I got lots of great shots of both herons, and two kinds of frogs, so it was definitely a worthwhile stop.

The drive to Whistler was very scenic. I was most impressed with looking off the coast toward the many islands, sticking up abruptly from the water into the clouds. It was difficult to get a shot that really showed this well because of the wires strung along poles along the road. But, I think this one gives some of the flavor.

Day one ended with dinner at The Keg in Whistler. For context, let me say that Jeff enjoys going out to restaurants so even though we don't ski or mountain bike, the two major activities in Whistler, we were looking forward to a week in a village where we could walk to dinner every night and eat at a different place every time. So, each day's blog post will end with a restaurant review. The Keg is one of our standby restaurants so we started with it after a day of traveling since we weren't up to being adventurous. We noted that the onion soup bowls in Canada were larger than our local Keg, and the wine list was different so I got to try a couple of different Okanagan red wines which were both quite tasty. All in all, an excellent first day of vacation.