Tuesday, November 19

T Minus 10 Seconds and Counting..........

Haloed Moon

  This evening, as the halo of the moon kept my camera's and my focus, the Minotaur I satellite was priming for launch from the NASA Wallops Island facility.  Near Chincoteague, VA, the rocket sets a record of delivering 29 satellites (28 cubesats and 2 non-separating tertiary payloads) into LEO, or Low Earth Orbit.

Minotaur Ascends with Stage Separation

  The orange glow of the rockets illuminated through the trees and passed above the oak as we watched from ESO Mission Control.  As it followed a graceful arc, I could see the separation of the stages as they peeled away from the rocket, briefly illuminated by the fiery thrust.

Accelerating to the Heavens

   As the Orbital Sciences rocket accelerated out of view, I am reminded of a quote from Alan Shepard:

 "It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract""

Friday, November 8

Opening Day of Waterfowl Festival

Blues Skies

  After yesterday's rain and wind provided a cleaning to my town's colonial streets and brick structures, the sun came out in full brilliance to illuminate the first day of the three day Waterfowl Festival.

Layout at the Tidewater

  With my media pass and camera in hand, I set out to talk to local craftsmen and artists, conservationists and sporting industry reps. There is much to be seen and experienced. As I walked through town, I came across three bands filling the air with Celtic ballads, Blues and Folk music, and the aroma of cream of crab soup drifted momentarily before a gust of air pushed it out.

Laughter at the Academy

Rockin' the Strat

Outdoors at the Bartlett Pear Inn

  From the world's oldest industrial company, Beretta of Italy, over 500 hundred years old, to local world renowned duck and goose call maker, Sean Mann, many facets of the sporting life are here and the crowd is aa vibrant as the fall leaves overhead.

Beretta Mobile Showroom

Sean Mann Calls at Albright's

 With many venues across town and activities for 
all ages, this festival should be on the "bucket list" of any serious waterfowler, or purveyor of fine art, and of course, aficionado of crap soup...

Art at the Armory

Monday, November 4

The Third Time's A Charm

Where's Waldo? 

    “Do you have a yardstick?” I asked the young man behind the counter, as I look at the bolt of Wetlands camo burlap five feet tall.  He apologized for it not being out, explaining that he had just started at the hunting and fishing store on MD Route 50, a few miles from the Bay Bridge, gateway to the Eastern Shore. This must be an after school gig, I figured, as I eyed the cherubic lad. 

As he measured, I commented that a yard was 36” and not the 48” he had in hand. “Oh yeah, that’s right”, he responded, as he shortened his measurement. As we finished up, he tugged more off the bolt. “Here is some extra, in case you need it”, he said, as he scissored the coarse cloth.

As the Wildfowl Ninja and I carried all of our supplies across the field yesterday, I was pleased that the overnight rain had softened the ground, to provide advantage in pounding the metal stakes a foot into the ground. Our project was simple: build a screen blind for hunting geese in a plowed corn field. 

As we trudged across the field and the Ninja fell behind under the weight of the mason’s bag filled with hand sledge, a kukri and assorted hand tools, I continued my diatribe. “The first time you do something it takes three times longer; the second time twice as long , and the third time is a slam dunk”, I offered, repeating the phrase a colleague had made, while I was working at a global consulting firm. 

And this was our third screen blind, having built two last year on this property.

Insta-Blind: Just Add Elbow Grease!

Using three six foot metal fence stakes, 48” green vinyl perimeter fencing and camo burlap, we decided to set the blind on the edge of a plowed corn field. With our backs in a growth of tall grasses and small bushes, the blind would be facing north, and in front of us would be ample room to set up decoy spread scenarios.
All of our materials and tools at the ready, I measured the blind length.  We decided on close to eight feet, with it slightly convex at the center stake. In preparation, I had painted the stakes with three coats of Rust-Oleum Camouflage flat green and then another coat of alternating stripes of flat tan.  After pounding in the stakes, which came out to be ~53” high, I laid out the green fencing.

Slowly Taking Shape

Stretching the fencing, I used zip ties to attach about every 8” vertically along the stake, working from left to right. After completed, I allowed some fencing to overlap about 8” on either side, in case I wanted to add burlap to the sides at a later date. Finally, the Wildfowl Ninja snipped off the extra from each locked zip tie.

Center Post and Fencing Up - Bring On the Burlap!

With the camo burlap laying over the blind, I checked to see is there was a top/bottom to the pattern, and then I laid about 4” over the top of the blind and working right to left zip tied the burlap to the fencing. I attached the burlap to each stake and lightly stretched it across to the next and tied it at the same intervals as the fencing. My partner worked diligently smoothing out the burlap and keeping the flow of zip ties coming. We finished it off, by doubling it over the top and tying it through the fencing and both sides of fabric. This step visually “softened” the top edge of the blind.

Wildfowl Ninja Checks For Level

As we always aim to better the construction, we improved on our brushing technique this year. Last year, we had tied decoy cord across the stakes, to tuck grasses and flora against the front of the blind. It worked well, but between hunts, the cord would stretch under weather effects and we would re-tighten every time in the blind (and also re-brush, which is Standard Operating Practice to keep us hidden). 

This year, I decided to add a doubled over bungee cord to one side and passed it through a looped piece of camo paracord. When it loosened under strain, I could tie another loop essentially tightening the “brush cord”. Also, although the heavier paracord would stretch, it was stronger than the decoy line. There was one “brush cord” at 18” off the ground and another 12” from the top of the blind. Last year, I only used one.

Bungee Detail: Patent Pending

With the bungee in place, I now walked far off from the blind site and cut the grasses with the kukri. The kukri is a long handled machete popular in India and was used by the Ghurkas in WWII. It is very effective at cutting grasses, small saplings, as its wide blade allows good purchase on what you are cutting. Mine is made by Cold Steel and keeps a good edge and is easy to sharpen. 

Passing grass to my partner, he tucked in the grasses and continued further concealment efforts. We finished the brushing (though we need to add more) with small bushes on the end stakes.

Primary Brushing in Place

Pre Hot Plate Installation

The Land Of Pleasant Living

As we cleaned up the blind site and added final touches of brush, I guess that young man at the shop was right. I did need that extra burlap he measured for me. He may have been new to the shop, but was not new to building a blind.

Monday, October 21

Building an Eastern Shore Blind

A Fine Day's Work

  That is what a work day is like, I told the Wildfowl Ninja, as we drove down the lane toward home.  We started at 8:30, I recapped, broke for lunch, wrapped up close to 6 and had a lot to show for our hard work. He was the youngest on the crew by three decades, but handled himself like an eager apprentice: ready for grunt work, did not complain or horse around.

  With a load from the lumber yard delivered, and the plans taped to the back wall of the garage, I let the men with true construction knowledge lead the way.  I do not consider being able to plane a door or fix a broken toilet as adequate to lead the charge on such an important project. Among the seven of us, we had decades of blind building experience, deep construction skill sets, strong backs and good attitudes.

   The task was straight forward: build a blind 12' by 5' with 5' foot back wall and 4’ front and side walls. 32” wide door in the back wall offset to the left, with a 16" wide seat across and a removable seat at the door. The roof would be pitched at a ~30 degree angle, allowing the shooter to stand up and out with clear shooting lanes. Set on cinder blocks and facing southeast, the blind was in a mowed corn field.

  Under an overcast sky we got to work on the floor of ¾” pressure treated plywood with 2x8 joists. The Wildfowl Ninja was eager to help with measuring the pieces needed, but particularly excited to get trained on the nail gun and used it in finishing the floor. Radiant heating tiles in Mossy Oak ShadowGrass Blades will be installed after a base coat of Old Goose paint.

The Wildfowl Ninja Mans the Gun

  With the depth of construction knowledge there were not many re-do’s, and “Measure Twice, Cut Once” was the unspoken rule. As Always. With one team measuring and cutting and another constructing and nailing, we made short work of the rest of this modular blind. The floor became the template on which to build the front and back walls, with shell shelves on the front wall and a door in the back wall. The side walls were constructed to fit inside the front and back walls, with plywood overlapping to screw into the ends of the front and back walls. Well thought out and built to withstand years of searing summers and cold wet winters, this was shaping up to be a beast.

Modular Blind Building

  The lunch bell rang and we were treated to a fantastic lunch of salad, fresh warm homemade bread and stew. Filled with pearl onions, peas, carrot, potatoes and tender chunks of goose breast, this was possibly one of the best stews I have had. The combination of the vegetables bathed in a thick broth and soft chunks of goose combined for a perfect blend and balance for the epitome of what a stew should provide: a foundation of hearty protein and vegetable vitamins. I almost went for a third helping, but there was work to be done.

  With all the pieces sideways on a utility trailer, the blind was hauled out to the nearby field. The back wall was carried off the trailer and placed behind the blind foundation, as we readied the floor for positioning.

The Floor is Ready for Placement

  The blind site was relatively level and blocks had been put in place for a foundation, so there would be a little bit of block overhang. The blind would be set in up against a few trees and some scrub, so in a few years, the growth would wrap around and contribute to the stealth of the blind.

Grading the Foundation

Two Up; Two to Go!

  With the sides up, the next conundrum was to ensure that the pitch of the roof was enough to provide cover from rain, concealment from birds, but not hinder the hunter’s ability to rise, move forward, mount and shoot. After some discussion, the pitch was determined and the 12’ roof by built with a 2x8 running lengthwise providing lateral support and a middle angled piece to keep the roof from bowing over time. Additionally, solar panels will provide enough energy for the early warning MigRadar (Migratory Radar System)

Door Detail with the Roof  in the Works

Roof Up and Benches Next

  Roof set, the bench was then made on a 2x4 frame, 16’ off the floor and 16” wide. It was determined that there would be a removable seat where the door was located. The rich Corinthian leather would be added once it was Scotch Guarded, (or Schnapps Guarded, pick your poison)

Bench in Place, with Shell Shelfs at the Ready

Bench with Door Closed 

  All put together and with extra screws for good measure, this juggernaut will provide cover from the elements for seasons to come. If it would only help my crossing shot. That comes with experience. This building project provided the Wildfowl Ninja with the experience of working with capable men to build a super solid hunting platform from a pile of lumber and hand drawn plans. He thought that was cool. The same cool that comes from being outdoors in a light rain on a cool day working hard.

Just add Paint and Brush...and Geese!

Monday, October 14

The WildFowl Ninja’s Training Continues

   When he told me what he wanted to do for his 12th birthday, I reflexively rubbed my upper arm, where three years prior I took a point blank hit from a fully charged paintball gun. “I’m in!”, I quickly replied. I then began to think of ways that I could run around like a madman and still retain my dignity among seven 11 year olds, as well as waking up the next day not feeling like I was hit by an All Pro Linebacker (pick your favorite, I will take London Fletcher). 
  After suiting up and picking teams, I realized that dignity among my cadre was a secondary concern, as they had nicknamed me the Juggernaut. I am unsure if it was because I was large and slow, or a relentless force.
  Yesterday was a fun and muddy afternoon and there was no culling out of the herd. All of these young men played hard, worked together and celebrated their victories, while congratulating the opposition on a game well played. Even after some particularly nasty close quarter hits, all of them “cowboyed up” and continued with renewed ferocity.
   Reflecting on the day, dignity was never an issue. Until of course, I split my pants trying to avoid a barrage of high velocity paintball rounds. Wearing shorts on the outside of my pants put me in the Hobo category, but it worked.
   Oh..and the last game had the Wildfowl Ninja holding off three buddies who tried to flank him but to no avail. This scenario may help him keep his eye on the right side of the blind.

Wednesday, October 2

Gear Review: Kershaw Cryo Folding Knife

Kershaw Cryo


The Kershaw Cryo is a hefty all metal folder, with a beefy modified drop point 2 3/4" blade and a thick tang. In looking for a spring assisted blade, I wanted a sub $50 folder with a blade less that 4", that could be used for every day carry and I would not go into deep depression if i lost it. While it took me some getting used to having an automatic knife in my pocket (not wanting a surprise vasectomy), I liked the solid lock up of the Cryo and the heft at a little over 4 ounces, and 3 3/4" closed. 

Cryo Closed: note the 4 way carry option

  Based on a Rick Hinderer design, who is known for advanced tactical blade designs, the blade steel is 8Cr13MoV Chinese made steel and it has held its edge to still shaving sharp. This is impressive, considering it generated a softball size amount of pine shavings for outdoor fires in the Black Hills. Yes, pine is a soft wood, but I did not go easy on the blade and it had the feel of a fixed blade in its solidity and lack of flex at the pivot point. 

Note the thick liner lock and deep jimping

  The Cryo has a liner lock that covers over half of the tang when in the open position. It was stiff at purchase, but has worn in nicely: it still opens quick and engages fully with no lateral blade travel. The jimping on the back of the blade allows some choking up on the blade and the handle is comfortable and feels natural in the palm. The pocket clip is a four way option and is very tight in the pocket. I levered mine slightly so that it would be tight but allow easy removal and replacement on my left pocket. 

A Stout and Strong Folder with Clean Lines

 This knife is a well made folder, with a strong blade, that holds an edge. Although I prefer domestic steel, the imported steel allows an acceptable price point. With a strong list of pros and few cons, the Kershaw Cryo earns  a ESO Must Buy award. .

Wednesday, July 31

Gear Review: Pelican Cases

The Steamer Trunk to last Forever!!

Look up bombproof in the dictionary and there should be a pen and ink drawing of a Pelican case. Built to take a beating, these are used for high end electronics protection, as well as holding anything that you want to survive the real life equivalent of a zombie apocalypse. At work, I was drooling over one the size of a steamer trunk in a colleagues’ office.  Price tag? Over $4000. Cost of item inside? North of $1M. When you want to make sure the item inside is protected from water, dust, and shock, you pay to get peace of mind.    

My rule of thumb is that 10% of the purchase price of a new camera will go toward a Pelican case to protect it.  My first case was purchased for a trip to the Bahamas on my honeymoon.  With the 1120 case, which cradled my first Olympus digital camera, I was able to paddle out through waves or backwater mangroves swamps and not worry about my camera not making it back in one piece. It has gone with me in the hunting blind; on the console of the Whaler, and on many adventures. When I lost the screw-in pressure equalization knob, the company sent me a replacement free of charge 13 years after purchase. Great products are backed by companies who understand the lifetime value of a customer. Pelican covers their cases with an unconditional lifetime warranty.  

All of the cases are of similar construction with a hard polycarbonate outer shell and an O-ring seal on the top lid. Dual latches secure the lid with padlock holes and there is a fold-in carry handle. The newer cases feature a pressure equalization valve allowing air flow, but water cannot penetrate into the case, as a Gore-Tex like membrane prevents larger water molecule entry.

To Be Passed On To Generations of Gear Collectors..

The case is lined with foam.  The lid has a fitted convoluted foam layer and the bottom has a flat open cell foam layer. The main body of the case is filled with pre-scored foam that allows you to pick out ~½” by ½” squares to get a custom fit for the three dimensions of the item. This “pick and pluck” foam holds up very well over years of use. In addition, you could replace the foam and customize it for a different item which you want to protect.  When ordering, I find it critical to know the right depth. You do not need to have a thick surrounding layer of foam, as once fitted in place, the item will not shift. Also, when you “size” up, you can have a case which can be unwieldy. A perimeter of 1” of foam should be more than sufficient.
The smaller cases work well for GPS, cell phones and other handheld electronics; the larger cases provide protection for cameras, binoculars, scopes. The hard rifle cases are the case of choice for military and tactical shooters. I use my smallest case to store cell phone, wallet and other items, when on the boat. It is also an excellent size to carry items for an emergency survival kit.  My 1120 case I use for my older Olympus, though it will be getting repurposed for my Reconnyx SC950 and my 1200 is the case du jour for my larger ultra zoom Lumix FZ200. I purchased my 1200 on sale for $50, and usually runs at ~$70. I use LowePro camera bags when I need moderate protection, but Pelican cases will ensure that your gear comes out of scrapes in better shape than you might.  Also, I suggest taping your business card under the lid foam.
While I expect a lot out of my gear, I also want to make sure it comes home operational. There are other excellent hard protection cases on the market, including Otter Boxes. After over a decade of hard use, my Pelican cases have taken everything I can throw at them.  With their bombproof construction and superlative customer service, I will stick with Pelican Products. Made in the USA.

Tuesday, July 23

The Venerable Barlow

The Barlow

  Jumping off the school bus and then accelerating toward my front door, I slowed down long enough to open the front door and dump my books in a heap. Before a beat up copy of Fundamental Geometry hit the floor, I was already bounding up the steps two at a time and heading for my room.
  I was late. Some of my private school pals were already out of school and down in The Woods. I needed to make sure I was not missing today’s symposium: M-80’s, Waterproof or Not? With no sonic reverberations bouncing off the two story colonial style houses that lined this tree lined street, I knew I had not missed the demonstration portion. Stopping at my desk and opening the drawer, I smiled as the light reflected off its nickel bolster. It was in the same place I left it every day and it went into the back pocket of my cords. The Venerable Barlow fell into its place naturally.
  With a solid tear drop shaped handle, generally made of bone, and a clip blade, these workhorses from Sheffield came to our shores, but did not carry with them the disdain for other products of the Colonial overlords. Beloved by generations of adventuresome American adolescents, it may not have kept a good edge, but was beefy enough to whittle a toothpick from a log.

  The status of the Barlow as the knife du jour for American boys and girls was elevated when Mark Twain wrote of a “sure-enough Barlow” in the 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. His use of “sure-enough”, or authentic, relates to its popularity among the youth of the time and the counterfeiting of established goods.

  A traditional folk song extols the plain virtue of this affordable blade.

I been livin' here all my life, All I got is a Barlow Knife;

Buck horn handle and a barlow blade,

Best dang knife that ever was made.

  It was the original EDC knife before Every Day Carry became the “tacti-cool” term. And Yes, they are waterproof.

Monday, July 15

Missed More Now Than He Ever Did on the Skeet Field

  While he may not have been a founding member of the Talbot Rod and Gun Club, he was a foundational pillar of its present membership. Always there to help and mentor; always there to teach a young shooter; always there to make sure things ran well and safely. Always there. Now, only in spirit.

  When I read the obituary a few weeks back, I prayed that it was for someone else. However, his first name was too unique for it not to be his. My son noticed my demeanor and asked what it was I was reading. I changed the subject, as I needed a moment to absorb the blow. I also required the time to soften the stunning news to him, as Philemon (or Phil, as he was known), had been as kind and patient to my son, as if he were his own.

  We talked later and both reflected on the times that the three of us had laughed together discussing everything from small town events to my son’s latest lessons learned in the field.

  Phil always offered sage advice and had a quick wit. He was a gentleman in the best sense of the word and I am honored to have known him. More importantly, though, I am thankful for my son to have such a gracious, considerate and amiable man to befriend him.

Tuesday, February 19

The New Camera

#2 Hevi Shot from an Early Season Goose (Macro image)

  By my estimation, I took ten to twenty thousand pictures with my Olympus C-750 and after ten years, I knew it was getting older. Colors were a little off and the internal parts sounded tired when focusing.

'"360" Light trails from boat in time lapse as Moon sets

   My new camera, a Lumix FZ-200, was an unexpected birthday present from those who are so very dear to me.

   Here are some images (a favorite of mine is the last one).

   As with all artistic pursuits, constructive criticism only make me become more adept at my craft. I welcome all comments...

Reflecting on the Next Catch

Miles River Bridge before Sunrise

Morning Mist (High Dynamic Range image)

Muscle Car Merry Christmas

Old Glory Salutes the Silent Sentinel

RG3 Warms Up Before Viking Game

A View to a Kill

Lone Oak

Sleepy Hollow (High Dynamic Range image)


Misty Morning under Miles River Bridge