Monday, September 22, 2014

Anybody Good at Bird Identification? - UPDATE: Mystery Solved!

Last week I was on my way home from a ride with CatMan when I stumbled upon this little guy by the side of the bike path.

He didn't fly off right away, so at first I was concerned that he might be hurt - but after he let me snap a few photos he quickly took to the sky.

So I've been trying to figure out exactly what kind of a bird it was. He (I say "he" but it could well be a female for all I know) anyhow, it was good sized, but not terribly big, maybe the size of a crow or a large pigeon, but from the beak and the bloomers I'm pretty confident it's some sort of a hawk or falcon.

I looked on a few bird identification sites, but I fear I'm not very good at this sort of thing.

None of them look quite right.

Maybe a Merlin hawk?

Merlin Hawk
Maybe a Red Tailed Hawk?

Red Tailed Hawk
Maybe a Prairie Falcon?

Prairie Falcon
Maybe a Swainson's Hawk?

Swainson's Hawk
Good lord. I look an enough pictures and they all start to look like hawk soup!

Well, anyhow, he was a neat looking bird, and he let me get pretty close to him which was cool - whatever kind of bird he is!

Here are a few more shots of him.

Anybody have any ideas?

I guess I'm sorta leaning toward Red Tailed Hawk - they are the most common raptors here in Colorado - but he doesn't look very red to me. Anybody want to take a crack at it?


OK, so since virtually everybody had a different idea as to what it was, I finally contacted a fellow named Kin Quitugua, who is an expert on Colorado Raptors. He didn't offer any details, but said it was an immature Swainson’s Hawk. In these photos at least, the face certainly looks more like the Swainson's than any of the others. And according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the young Swainson's are often seen on the ground in open places hunting grasshoppers - and there are a LOT of grasshoppers along that stretch of the bike path, which would completely explain what he was doing there on the ground. So there you have it! The expert weighs in!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Good Clean Fun!

Sooo... a few years ago I decided to stock up on soap.

Because of my allergies I have troubles with just about anything other than clear unscented glycerin soap, but it makes me a little bit crazy that you can only buy the stuff in small 4 ounce bars wrapped in plastic. I don't like the fact that it comes in plastic, I don't like that the bars are so small, and I don't like that it costs twice as much as the cheap smelly stuff.

Anyhow, I found a big box of the stuff online a few years ago and it worked out great... well mostly great. It was still in small bars that were wrapped in plastic, but it was much cheaper than buying the bars individually and I didn't have to worry about running out.

Well... for a few years anyhow, But since I'm down to just a few bars left, I decided it was time to go stock up again.

But this time, I discovered that I could get a significantly better price if I bought the stuff in a big block. So I compared my options and did my math and ended up ordering a 25 pound box of soap.

Sooo... it arrived today and, well... 25 pounds turns out to be um... a tad bit bigger than I had been anticipating!

Oh my. So I spent my morning chopping soap and wrapping it in some old butcher paper that I had been saving from some other stuff that I ordered online. And here you have it:

Holy Moly! I hope soap doesn't go bad! Well, I never claimed to be sane.

Now y'all can laugh if you want to, but when the zombie apocalypse comes and people are fighting in the streets over that last bar of soap... who'll have the last laugh then?

Well anyhow, at least the zombies won't have to clean me off before they make lunch out of me!

So has anybody else out there ever gone a tad bit overboard when stocking up?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Urban Infill. Good Thing or Bad Thing?

So my dad turned 80 earlier this month, and to celebrate we all went out to eat at one of his favorite Italian restaurants. The place has been around since before WWII and it's one that Dad remembers fondly from his youth.

The inn is just a few miles from Dad's house, in the neighborhood where he grew up - which used to be the Italian section of town.

We took a meandering route to get there so Dad could show us all of the schools he attended as a child, as well as the boarding house that his grandmother (my great grandmother) used to own.

As the Italians integrated into the larger society, the area became primarily Hispanic or Latino, and now... well now it seems to be transforming into Denver's latest hip and trendy neighborhood.

Seriously, the amount of construction going on there is really amazing - there must be a new group of town houses or condos going up on practically every block!

I call this "Lego Construction" Seriously, doesn't it look like it's made from Legos?
To tell the truth, this phenomenon is not unique to my father's neighborhood, it's part of a much larger trend going on here known as "infill." Basically the city has been making a concerted effort to get people to live closer to downtown rather than way out in the suburbs.

So zoning laws have been changed, huge investments have been made in light rail and other forms of mass transit, and there's a movement to make Denver into one of the country's most walk-able/bike-able cities with things like bike sharing programs and improved infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

I've gotta say I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand the sustainability nut in me is jumping for joy.

I mean it's almost like a dream come true... light rail trains, people walking and biking to work instead of driving 30 miles from the exurbs. It's like the city planners have gone sane or something!

And remember my bike lane fantasy where I dreamed that the city would take some low traffic streets and turn them into bike-only right of ways? Well, something very similar is actually happening! They're called "bike boulevards."

OK, they're not quite as cool and groovy as my phantasmagorical pipe dream because they don't prevent as much vehicular traffic as I had hoped, but the plan is to optimize certain streets for bicycle traffic with stop signs oriented to require traffic to stop for bikes, easy ways to get across major thoroughfares, low speed limits for cars, and "traffic calming" devices like roundabouts designed to keep speeders from driving too fast.

And get this... the first one is gonna be in my neighborhood! For reals... a bike boulevard right here in the barrio! My city council rep must have had to stand on his head and do back flips to make that happen! (BTW - I refer to my neighborhood as "the barrio" because it's one of Denver's poorest neighborhoods with a mostly Hispanic/Latino population. In Spanish "barrio" simply means "area" or "neighborhood" so I don't mean the term in a derogatory way.)

So as you can see, part of me is really, REALLY excited about the changes coming to my city.

But there's another part of me that's a bit leery of all this change. I mean while it's fabulous to see the revitalization of so many of Denver's oldest neighborhoods, I've gotta admit that I feel a bit sad to see so many old buildings being torn down and so many areas losing their character.

I've gotta wonder how much longer my great-grandma's boarding house will be there... or even my dad's house for that matter. His house (which is nearly 120 years old, and that's OLD for this part of the world) sits on a huge lot, so I'm sure there would be plenty of developers who would love to knock it down and build several dwellings there.

And when poorer areas "come up" and become gentrified, what's to become of the lower income folks who currently live there? It's not like the poor folk just disappear because they get priced out of the neighborhoods where they grew up... they've got to go somewhere.

Denver is trying to address this issue through a new affordable housing ordinance which will require builders to either make a certain percentage of the units in new buildings "affordable" or else build an additional lower rent facility somewhere nearby.

But the ordinance is limited, and one has to wonder who gets to define "affordable." Seriously, it's hard to find even a studio apartment within the city and county of Denver for under $1000/month! And the vacancy rate in Denver is at about 5% meaning there aren't many places available to rent to begin with.

I'm already noticing a new trend here in the barrio - white people!

I'm not exactly one to talk on this subject, because I am pretty much the whitest of the white, but it would make me very sad to see this neighborhood lose its ethnic character. However if the cost of housing continues to rise... which it seems quite likely that it will, I think it's almost inevitable that middle class white people will start moving to more affordable neighborhoods like mine.

So I dunno... is all this change a good thing or a bad thing? I think one could make an argument either way. Is sustainability really "sustainable" if it prices out a huge chunk of the population? I mean, people clearly want walk-able and bike-able neighborhoods because they are flocking to them, and that's a good thing. But how do we do it in a way that's inclusive rather than forcing out entire populations? And are we really accomplishing anything if all we achieve is moving rich people closer to the city and poor people further out?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this whole topic. How has your area dealt with these sorts of issues?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Wardrobe Malfunction

For the past week CatMan hasn't been feeling very well, so our bike riding time has been limited. While this is a definite bummer, it has given me the opportunity to do a bit of casual errand-running bike trips and sort out some "wardrobe issues" that I was having on old Gertrude.

Old Gerty decked out with baskets for running errands
Now, longtime readers might recall that back when old Gerty was my primary ride, she and I had some "issues" in terms of rear end pain. To make a long story short, she was a real pain in the butt!

I finally solved the problem by getting a big wide cushy saddle which had plenty of padding to keep my rear happy, and a nice cutout to protect the "girly parts".

In retrospect I think part of the problem may have been that I raised the handlebars by a few inches to deal with some wrist pain that I was having, and that put me in a more upright position, which both put more weight on my rear end, and put me on a wider section of my "sit bones".

At any rate, the new seat is wonderfully comfortable - so comfortable in fact that I can easily ride her without special padded bike shorts. But... and this is a pretty big but, I now have a new problem.

Comfortable though the new seat may be, it's not very, um... breathable. So when you sweat, which you inevitably do if you ride more than a few blocks in the summer heat, you end up with a rear end that looks a bit like this:

Seriously, those are my capri pants after about a half an hour on Gerty. OY! Now I'm no fashion plate by any stretch of the imagination, but walking around in public with a butt that looks like that was a bit too much for even me to handle.

I could alleviate the problem by wearing padded bike shorts - as part of the purpose of the pad is to absorb sweat. But you know... even though I have come a long way in terms of dealing with my body image issues, walking around the grocery store, or the bank in skin tight bike shorts is just not something I'm really comfortable with.

All of that meant that Gerty had been pretty much relegated to errands of no more than a few blocks.

So I finally decided it was time to tackle this problem once and for all, and made a tour of the local thrift stores with the specific goal of finding shorts that were made of some sort of fabric that would not show sweat. It took me several weeks of hunting but I finally found the perfect solution.

These shorts are actually designed for playing golf, but they're made from some sort of stretchy nylon that dries very quickly and doesn't show sweat at all. See... here they are after a 30 minute hot ride:

Woo Hoo! And they only cost me $3 (OK... probably double that if you include the gas money it cost to find them - but still a bargain.)

So Gerty and I are back in business. In the past week we've been to the library twice, the dollar store, the grocery store and the post office. We even had a route plotted to the pet food store but we were thwarted by a migraine and a thunderstorm - and since Princess was in NO mood to wait for her Rad Cat, I had to resort to the car. Oh well, at least I have conquered sweaty butt syndrome!

So tell me, do any of you who ride ever experience anything like this? I'm curious to hear what other people wear for casual bike riding to avoid this sort of fashion faux pas!