Saturday, February 28, 2009

RIP - Paul Harvey 1918-2009

"Hello Americans, this is Paul Harvey. Stand by for news."

I don't go off-the-format too much with this blog, but I feel I need to note the passing of radio legend Paul Harvey, who completed his earthly duties today at the age of 90. For those of us who lived in rural America, Paul Harvey was a voice of reason that entered our homes and vehicles as he read the national news interspersed with small town values. For those like me who grew up on our Pacific coast and listened to AM radio, his voice was one that you could count on finding anywhere. And I do mean anywhere--whether it be on the 50,000 watt powerhouse stations like KOMO in Seattle, KGO out of San Francisco or KMJ out of Fresno, or the countless small 1,000 watt stations like KPRL in Paso Robles, California where I was privileged to work for about a year. You knew first thing in the morning and at lunch time you could hear the news as he saw it.

He never pretended that his broadcast was straight news--there was always a comment or two seemingly on each story to give his perspective and often to prod you into thinking about the topics of the day. Add to that a small dose of humor at the end with For What It is Worth (more on this later), and he'd knock out 12-15 minutes of the most engaging AM radio of the last few decades.

That was his gig for just short of 58 years, minus a couple brief and not so brief absences as health issues kept him away from the microphone. And a gig that reportedly he was paid $100 Million for in a 10 year contract signed in 1990. Not bad for 30 minutes of airtime 6 days a week.

The part of his show that I loved and hated the most was his For What it Was Worth segment at the very end of the broadcast. It always featured a news oddity that was making the rounds that day off of one of the wire services, often with him delivering a pregnant pause at the end right before he got to the punchline. I hated it often because I was listening to it on Armed Forces Radio on my way into work and listening to it meant that I was going to be a minute or two late reporting to duty (and undoubtedly would catch hell for it). But favorite because it was the little dose of humor that we needed no matter where "where" was to get our day started in the proper perspective.

My favorite of these stories was when he noted that in some small town while the police were out at a call somebody had come in and stolen all of the porcelain bathroom fixtures at the police station. Something to the effect that the police were baffled for at this point they had nothing to go on.

My father also speaks of a time when his local sheriff's office in rural California was highlighted on the show because they had seized what in the day were called stag films (probably at best soft core pornography today) and to ensure that indeed the movies were obscene the entirety of the department watched the films multiple times.

And the classic Paul Harvey quote, which melts it down to the essence of humanity and male egos, "Gonads are useful for their intended purpose, but they are no substitute for brains."

He reported the news, highlighted the idiotic, and did so always with a bit of a spin towards his politics but never in the blow-hard style that we come to expect from both sides of the political spectrum.

My nightly guilty pleasure during my short stint in commercial radio was wrapping up my show, moving the satellite feed to Mutual Broadcasting and Larry King's overnight radio show, and then stepping into the production room to pop in the lunch time version of the show while I bulk erased the tape cartridges that the morning guy would use for his show. His words made the time fly by--thank God we hardly ever had any local commercials for Larry King--they never would have gotten played on time if we did.

Mr. Harvey, you will be missed but undoubtedly you've reached Page 5 and have been reunited with the Angel that you married 60+ years ago and left this world for Page 5 just 9 months ago. We'll continue to stand by for news, but for now Mr. Harvey, Good-day.

Other accounts:
ABC News coverage

Friday, February 20, 2009

Preliminary Report - Lost Maples SNA Blind

On my last trip down the South Llano River State Park, I stopped for a quick bite to eat in Junction at Sonic and then headed down the road to Lost Maples State Natural Area (SNA). I had learned a number of months back that Lost Maples SNA had a blind and I received some input from a couple of the readers here about the place. But I figured that if I'd all ready driven 2 hours to Junction, another almost hour in the car to Lost Maples was worth the trip, even if the light available was not going to be good light.

First off, the staff at Lost Maples SNA were very friendly and responsive to my questions and needs. Great folks, but then again I've rarely had anything other than that to say about TPWD staff at any park, SNA, or WMA.

The blind was only a short distance from the front gate. Make the first left and follow it to it's termination. There is a full-fledged parking lot very close to the blind. This is both good and bad. Good that I didn't have to carry my equipment very far. Bad in that there seemed to be a constant level of noise from the parking area to include folks playing music way too loud. Not what I go to a state park for, but I guess we can't always keep civilization out of paradise.

The other thing that does not help this blind is that it is right next to a trail head with no barrier between the trail and the bird perches/food.

The blind itself has a wide face but is narrow. There is a large wide window on either side of the blind with nearly the same level of tilt as you find at South Llano River State Park's 4 blinds. As such, shooting from behind these windows is next to impossible.

There is a trap door in the middle of the blind. The trap door is more than big enough to get my 300mm f4 through and I have nearly full range of the blind area from this open trap door. Seating is okay, but far from comfortable from that middle spot.

Other readers have told me that it is possible to shoot from outside and I found that to be the case as well. The birds are reasonably used to the humans.

Despite the challenging conditions, I'm convinced that this could be a very productive blind to shoot from, whether it be inside the blind, out in the open, or perhaps a small pop-up outside the blind.

Perches and attractants were plentiful and generally natural. I'm looking forward to a mid-week early morning visit to the park so I can see how this blind works out. Probably towards late April or early May.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 16th Blind Report: San Angelo State Park

It's always good to have a Monday away from the office to go out to "the other office." Saturday was a lost shooting morning due to Concho Valley Photography Club. Always a blast and a great learning experience, but I can't shoot and be at the club meeting. Sunday's light was horrible--no sense wasting my time on bad light.

So Monday rolled around and it was heavily overcast. I wasn't holding my breath on getting great shots, but I knew that this would be better than my lack of opportunity on Sunday.

I made it out to the blind at about 9AM. A phone call on my way into the park slowed me down by about a half hour or so. Light was cold and minimal when I got out there, but as the morning progressed so did the light. Started out shooting at ISO 200 with exposures of 1/40th to 1/60th of a second at f/6.3 and by the time I left, depending on the direction I was shooting, exposure times were 1/150th to 1/400th of a second at the same ISO and f-stop.

Image opportunities were good. Multiple opportunities on Red-winged Blackbirds. They were darn near at invasion levels from time to time. A small smattering of Brown-headed Cowbirds made their return as well. I'm never pleased to see them, but have to report what I see.

There were a couple of oddities. Pyrrhuloxias, who normally are not exactly people friendly, made much closer passes to the blind. I think I matched my all-time favorite male shot on this photo opportunity. Also reasonably rare was the orange variant of the House Finch. I'm told that this is not a subspecies, but just a rarity. Whether through genetics or diet is an open debate. Regardless, got a couple of decent images of him as well.

No laundry list--my copy of my notes did not make it between the car and the house.

House Finch (Male) - orange variation, San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller
Red-winged Blackbird (Male), San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February 8th Blind Report - San Angelo State Park

As mentioned on my February 8th entry, I made the choice to travel on Saturday and stay local on Sunday because the weather on Sunday had the potential to be really bad. As it turned out, it was a good decision to stay local.

I got out to the blind a little bit after 8:30 and the cloud cover was pretty significant. Temperature was reasonably warm, but the wind was blowing pretty well. After I took care of some volunteer-related activities, I settled into the blind and was joined by another of the regulars to the blind.

The theme of the day was spurts. We'd go 10-15 minutes of big numbers of birds, and then all of a sudden a hurried departure and no birds for 5-10 minutes. The cycle went through a few times and our guess was that there was some form of predator making the rounds but we weren't sure what it was. At about 10AM we got our answer--a hawk flew across the face of the blind chasing one of the house finches. The weather was starting to get even more windy and the light was quickly disappearing so it was a good time to pull stakes and get out.

The only real surprise of the day was not bird but mammal--a skunk wandered in around the blind looking for some water. He found a little bit and then away he went. I didn't get what I would consider wall-worthy material, but certainly something that I'll be able to use in the near future.

No laundry list on this visit.

Image: Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Male), San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller

Sunday, February 8, 2009

February 7th Blind Report - South Llano River State Park Blinds #1 (Loma) and #4 (Acorn)

I stepped completely away from taking pictures last weekend. Weather locally was too clear and I had some projects staring me directly in the face that kept me from getting in the car and traveling elsewhere. So I took the time to take care of business and put off any travel to this weekend.

So Saturday I went down to South Llano River State Park. Easy choice to make. Weather was supposed to be dicey on Sunday so I figured a road trip Saturday and then fingers crossed on a couple of hours on Sunday at San Angelo State Park. Plus, if I was going to be at South Llano River I would also make a quick scouting trip to Lost Maples SNA.

I started once again in Blind #4 (aka Acorn). Weather was considerably warmer this weekend as compared to 2 weekends ago. I was able to leave the gloves and ski-style mask in the car this time around. It was very comfortable with just a poly-pro shirt and my standard camouflage outershirt without need for a jacket. Skies however were mostly cloudy, which certainly knocked down the available light, but it diffused things nicely.

Species spread was a little smaller than last time around. No Downy Woodpecker and no Inca Dove. But pretty much everything else showed up. Goldfinches and sparrows seemed to be more numerous. Northern Cardinals were less numerous. Quite a few Pine Siskins wandering around. The Wild Turkeys which had made their visits the previous week were back again, too. All in all it was a good time.

As I started to head out of the park I decided to take advantage of the favorable sky conditions and stopped at Blind #1 (aka the Loma Blind). This blind is not nearly as cozy as Blind #4. Also, in my haste to leave the house I left my portable stool behind so it was going to be an uncomfortable photo shoot. There was a much more narrow species spread in this blind, but there were White-crowned Sparrows present here where they were not present in Blind #4. Light was good with the cloud-cover, even though it was nearly 11am.

Wild Turkey, South Llano River State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller
Bathing Female Northern Cardinal, South Llano River State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller