sat, 30-may-2009, 11:43

Raft of birds off Gull Island

Raft of birds off Gull Island

I’d meant to recap our trip to Homer earlier this month, but never got around to it, so here it is (I’m waiting for the New Shed Hefeweizen mash to finish). We entered all our birds into the animals database winding up with a total of 53 species, including yellow-billed loons, which was a life-bird for both Andrea and me. We didn’t see any Red knots, which was a disappointment since they’re expected to go extinct within the next ten years. Last year we only saw one, but in past years we’ve seen groups of them. It’s shocking to witness the elimination of a species (OK, subspecies…) over such a short period of time.

Spring migration was well underway when we got back from Homer, and we’ve been keeping track of all the birds as they come into to our yard. We’re still twenty-one species shy of our total last year, but new birds are still showing up. This morning’s new species was a Swainson’s Thrush, which showed up one day earlier than last year.

sat, 30-may-2009, 08:44

It’s been an interesting 12 hours: seismic activity in Interior Alaska has really ramped up, causing a multitude of small quakes, and three large enough that we felt and heard them. Last night there was a magnitude 3.5 earthquake around 9 miles from our house, and this morning there have been two more (a 3.2 about 11 miles away and a 2.9 that was only 6 miles away). None caused any damage, but they do shake the house and make enough noise that the dogs perk up. Experiencing tectonic forces so large and powerful is a sobering (and exciting) experience.

There’s a general perception in the lower 48 that California is the most seismically active place around, but the huge subduction zone that stretches from the Aleutian Islands all the way to the west coast of North America causes earthquakes and volcanic activity all over Alaska. The 1964 Good Friday quake (pictured in the photo) was the largest ever recorded in North America, and the 2002 Denali earthquake (which we rode through at the Bird Observatory) was an order of magnitude larger than the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that ripped up the Bay Area during the World Series. Most of the major earthquakes are south of the Alaska Range where the plates are moving against each other closer to the surface, but all the pressure creates fault lines up here in Fairbanks and can trigger some fairly large events.

Our house is less than ten years old, but knowing it went through the Denali quake without incident allows us the luxury of appreciating the power of the geologic processes at work without worrying they’ll destroy our house.

Update: 31-May-2009, 21:35. Magnitude 3.8, eight miles away.

tags: dogs  earthquake  house 
sat, 09-may-2009, 08:45

Homer panorama

Homer panorama

We’re currently in Homer for the shorebird festival. Andrea gives her talk on Birdwatching for Absolute Beginners this morning, and after that it’s another perfect day of birding on Kachemak Bay. We've already got a notebook full of observations for our animals database and will probably get quite a few more at high tide today. The panorama at the top of the post is the view from our bed and breakfast.
sun, 05-apr-2009, 13:18

Piper's, day one

Fermentation, day one

Yesterday I brewed my ninth batch of Piper’s Irish-American Red Ale, based on a recipe from Jeff Renner posted in the Homebrew Digest. It’s an easy drinking, low alcohol (4.0—4.7%) red ale. My version isn’t a traditional Irish Red Ale because it’s got six-row malt and corn in it, but this is likely to have been the combination of grains used by early Irish immigrants to the United States. When the English first colonized North America, two-row barley for brewing was imported from Britain. Six-row barley grew much better in our climate, but it is higher in protein than two-row barley, which results in a cloudy beer, and one which spoils more readily (especially without refrigeration). The solution to this problem is to replace some of the six-row barley starches with other types of starch like corn. The high-protein barley will readily convert the starches in the corn to the simple sugars that yeast can consume, and the total amount of protein in the final product will be reduced. It was a great adaptation to the native strain of barley grown in early America.

We don’t have to worry about that now, of course, but I enjoy renewing some older brewing traditions. This batch is a little over 40% British two-row pale malt, 30% American six-row malted barley, and 20% flaked maize. There’s some flaked barley for head retention, and crystal 60 and chocolate malt to produce the malt flavor and color of a red ale.

Toothbrush dog

Andrea’s photo of Piper, The Toothbrush Dog

I was trying out a new transfer pump on this batch, as my previous one was damaged by ice the last time I brewed. I’d left my water supply barrel outside overnight and when the very cold water hit the pump, it froze. The other issue with the old pump was that it would shut down when the outlet flow was constricted too much, a problem during chilling because I use a ball valve to limit the flow of cold water into the plate chiller. The new pump screamed right through the constricted flow and I got the wort from boiling to 64°F without any problems this time. I would have preferred a pitching temperature closer to 68°F, but I’d made a yeast starter, and the low wort temperature didn’t seem to slow it down at all. This morning there was a thick head of yeasty foam on the surface (as you can see in the photo).

While I was brewing, Andrea took some of the dogs to Mush for Kids where Piper was the Toothbrush Dog. She walked around with a backpack filled with toothbrushes for the kids who went to the event. Check out Andrea’s blog for more details and photos.

tags: beer  brewing  Piper 
sun, 05-apr-2009, 11:21

Larry's pond panorama

Larry’s pond panorama

Curious to find out how far up the overflow went, I rode my bike on the mushing trail upstream to Larry’s pond. It’s a quarter-mile bicycle ride, but is more like half a mile upstream from our house as the fish swim. As you can see from the panorama above, the overflow is upstream of this point. My foot broke through the ice while I was taking this photo and it was about 8 inches deep at the edge of the pond. The Creek is connected to the pond on the left side of the photo. If the blog sidebar is cutting into the photo, you may need to make your browser window wider. Click on the image for a very large (1400 pixels wide) version.

The photo was stitched together with the Hugin front end to panorama tools. The exposure of the right-most frame isn’t perfect, but that’s where the sun was, so I think it did an amazing job.

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