September Recap

What a month. Good times with family and friends. Two unexpected lifers. My first NFL and college football games. A Chicago concert. And curling!

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Curling

Curling is mesmerizing. I used to watch it late into the night during the Winter Olympics. I decided long ago that it would be fun to try it sometime, but I couldn’t find anywhere in Chicagoland where that was easy. When I moved to Colorado Springs, I discovered the Broadmoor Curling Club, which operates out of the Colorado Springs World Arena Ice Hall (what a terrible name). The club has leagues, and once or twice a year they host “Learn to Curl” classes to encourage people to join the leagues. I asked Joshua if he’d like to take the class with me and he accepted immediately. It cost us $35 each.

After signing a waver, we sat in the bleachers with perhaps 30 other people. An old guy with a tam o’shanter gave us some curling trivia while a Zamboni smoothed the ice on the hockey rink behind him. There were four curling sheets marked on the ice along with the hockey lines. A woman then showed us the various pieces of curling equipment. She wasn’t a teacher, and I had little idea of what she was talking about until we got out on the ice and given a chance to use the equipment. She also explained the safety rules. We learned that curling stones weigh 40 lbs. and cost about $1,500. They’re made from a particularly strong and dense granite found on one island off Scotland. Behind the woman, two guys were walking around the rink spraying water droplets on the ice to create the pebbling that makes the stones slide.

We finally grabbed our brushes and went out on the ice. Joshua and I were joined by a guy named Jeff (wearing a blue jacket in the photos) and a teacher named Joe (in the black coat). Joe showed us how to stand in the toe block with one foot while putting our other foot on a slider. We held the handle on the stone with our right hands and a stabilizer with our left. We were to push off with our right foot, then let it trail behind us. We held on to the stabilizer for balance until we reached the spot where we let go of our stones. As you can see in the video below, I was too upright and shaky during my practice runs but got lower and smoother and more comfortable as the evening progressed. We gave the stones a slight spin as we released them. Ideally, they should spin three times as they travel down the sheet. It’s the rotation that causes the stone to curl (which gives the game its name). If I stood at the end of the sheet, I could see the incoming stones curl as they moved. A teammate (the “skip”) stood at the far end and gave us directions on where to aim and which direction to spin the stone. The skip also called out directions to the sweepers to sweep or not to sweep, depending on how fast the stone was moving.

We also learned to use the brush. The brush had a pad on the end. Sweeping it across the ice in front of a moving stone created friction that melted the pebbles a bit. This reduced the friction on the stone and made it travel further. Joe told us that a good team can increase the distance a stone travels by as much as 10 feet.

The curling sheet is 146 feet long. There’s a target on each end which is called a house. The small circle in the center of the house is called the button. Only one team scores per end. To begin with, the skips from each team determine which stone is closes to the center of the button. They then count out from there to see how many stones that same team has in the house that are closer to the button than the nearest stone of the other team. We played four ends. In the first three, my team had two stones in the house that were closer to the center than any stones of the other team, so we scored two points in each of those ends. We had one stone closer in the fourth end, so we won the match 7-0. In this photo, the guy who taught the women is showing us how to score. He also gave us tips during the game.

There were three friendly women on the other team. The main reason we beat them is that they weren’t at all consistent with the force they put behind their stones and many of them stopped short of the house and even of the hog line. Any stone that doesn’t cross the hog line is removed from play. Stones that cross the hog line but don’t make it into the house remain on the ice and work as blockers for future stones. Each player throws two stones. In a regulation match, there are four players on a team, but we only had three.

In our first end, both my stones went through the house. The two scoring stones were thrown by Joshua. I’m not sure about the second end. The two scoring stones may have been his again, or one of them may have been mine. In the third game, both scoring stones were mine, and one of them actually landed right on the button. This happened to be the throw I filmed from the end of the rink behind me. You can see it on the video below. When my stone landed on the button, Joshua raised his fist and yelled. We were told that curling protocol didn’t include celebration, but I could resist having Joshua take a photo of me subtly pointing at my stone.

In the fourth game, our one point came from my stone that also landed on the button, but  this time it was knocked there by a stone thrown by the other team, so I’m not as proud of that one.

We were on the ice for two hours, and every moment of it was fun. Curling is very different from anything I’ve done before. It’s also an accessible game—the fact that I didn’t make a fool of myself was a big plus, along with the fact that I landed a stone on the button (although I realize that was as much luck as anything). I may even join a league sometime.

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Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space

Saturday morning in Colorado Springs was gray, overcast, and damp. I headed for a trail I hadn’t hiked before. It was about 30 miles north of my house, not far from Castle Rock. As soon as I drove over the Palmer Divide, the sky cleared. As I hiked, the temperature was around 60°, and a stiff breeze kept the sun from being overwhelmingly hot. The trail at Dawson Butte makes a five-mile loop below the butte, through pines and scrub oak and a few meadows. The total altitude gain is about 150′, so it isn’t very strenuous. There are long views of the front range, and of course close-ups of the butte itself.

There were a decent number of birds around, but nothing unusual. All three species of Colorado nuthatch were there in flocks. There were also other hikers, some bikers, and some horseback riders, but never in numbers that made me feel crowded.

It was a pleasant hike in a pleasant place, but 30 miles from home is a bit far for me to make it a regular exercise spot. See the clouds in the photo above? They mark the Palmer Divide. On my way home, as I crossed back over, the day once again became gray, overcast, and damp. It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that the sun broke through near home.

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Air Force Falcons vs. San Jose State Spartans

I can see the Air Force football stadium from the upstairs windows at work. It’s 2.7 miles from my house as the crow flies. It seemed like we really ought to get to a game sometime. We tried in 2017. We bought tickets, but when the day came, we were back in Illinois. We gave the tickets to a friend who gave them to a neighbor of her parents.

We finally made it for the second home game of the 2019 season. It was on a Friday night at 6:00. I expected a lot of traffic and hassle, but there was none. We were waved onto the Academy grounds without stopping and were parked in the south lot shortly thereafter. Our seats were on the visiting (east) side of the stadium, near midfield but high up on the bleachers. Sally is sitting right at the top right of the “C” in “FALCONS.”

This was our view.

It was warm and sunny when we arrived. I left Sally in our seats and wandered down to buy a mediocre supper from a food tent. I wasn’t back up on my seats long when the festivities began. Four jets flew over.

Six hang gliders parachuted down into the stadium. All the cadets marched out in formation. A guy dressed as a bird (and apparently called “The Bird” ran around frantically. There were two cheer squads and a pom squad and a couple of cows from Chick-fil-A. What there wasn’t was a large crowd. At its peak, I don’t think the stadium was one-third filled.

A weatherman appeared on the scoreboard to tell us that it might rain a few drops before the game started but then it looked good the rest of the night. He was wrong.

The Spartans scored on their first drive but then pretty much checked out. Air Force didn’t throw the ball often, but they didn’t have to. I can’t remember a single punt, although there may have been one or two. Air Force did complete one long fly pattern for a touchdown, but of course I didn’t catch it on video. The Falcons won 41-25, and the game was only that close because of charity. The Falcons quit playing defense in the fourth quarter. Seriously. At one point they tried for a 4th and 3 on their own 20 yard line when they could have punted with a stiff wind at their backs.

Whenever Air Force made a first down, the announcer would say, “That’s enough for an Air Force …” and then he would stop. An old guy two rows in front of us yelled “First down,” and I figured out that the entire crowd was expected to join in. For the next several first downs, it was just the old guy and me, but I nagged Sally until she began joining in too. Still, the three of us didn’t make much of an impact.

Whenever Air Force scored, a bunch of cadets ran onto the field and did a push-up for each point. This accumulated, so that when the last points were scored, they had to do 41 push-ups. Many Air Force personnel in the stands were also doing push-up, as you can see in the photo below. Four guys also ran out and did a loop of the north end zone carrying huge banners.

As soon as the sun went down, a cool north breeze came whipping down the front range and through the stadium. We were soon freezing, even though we’d had the foresight to bring jackets. During halftime, it began raining. We’d gone down by the food trucks and never returned to our seats. Most of the crowd left. We sheltered in the lee of a tent for the worst of it, then sat in the north end zone, somewhat out of the wind. This was our view from there.

Air Force was driving for the far end zone in the fourth quarter, so we walked down to the other end. We didn’t even bother finding seats. You can see how empty the stands were by then. Sally huddled behind a section of the bleachers out of most of the wind. My weather app said it was 60°, but it was far, far colder than any 60° I’ve ever felt.

We stuck it out to the very end because we figured we’d only do this once. But we enjoyed the hoopla and the game and the atmosphere and weren’t at all sorry we’d gone.

We got out of the stadium and the parking lot with zero wait at any point. Because we were in the south lot, we were forced to exit the academy through the South Gate, which meant a long drive lined with cones and traffic directors who were standing in the dark with no traffic to direct.

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Chicago

I don’t recall hearing Chicago before I went to Moody in the fall of 1976, but I probably did. The band had been around for seven years by then and already had several hits. I sure heard a lot of them during my three years of college. They were the favorite band of most of the guys on my floor and in my dorm. Somehow some of the musically talented students got permission to play three of their songs on the plaza. Rumor had it that they played so loudly that the sound was picked up on WMBI radio.

I bought several of their vinyl albums, including IX, X, XI, XII, and XIV. I didn’t like all their songs, but I liked most of them. At college and after, I frequently played the cassette of Chicago IX in the car. Both my daughters grew up familiar with their music. Of course, they take up a huge chunk of my playlist.

So it was an easy decision to buy tickets when I saw they were performing at the Pikes Peak Center in Colorado Springs. We were almost too late—there were only a handful of seats scattered around the balcony and the very back of the lower level. We ended up in the fifth row of the balcony.

We drove down early and eat tacos at Chipotle in downtown Colorado Springs. We got to the center around 7:15 and bought a program, a hat, and a magnet before finding our seats.

The concert began with a long jam session and a song I wasn’t familiar with, but they soon began playing their classics. I’m not as big a fan of their ’80’s ballady stuff, but they got most of that out of the way in one chunk. It was a very lively concert. The band members really seemed to be enjoying themselves and exerting maximum energy. We both thought the concert in 2014 when we saw them perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was great, but we both thought this one was better. The video screens made the music visually captivating too.

Three of the original members were still around—a third of the total band. They guy who did most of the vocals, Neil Donnel, had a more authentic Chicago sound than the lead singer at the last concert. Again, the drums during “I’m a Man” were the highlight.

I’ve Been Searching So Long

Make Me Smile, which was interrupted by a long jam session and medley of other songs. It’s my favorite Chicago song.

Old Days

I’m a Man — The drum duet in this next video is worth watching.

25 or 6 to 4 — I wonder how many times I’ve heard this song in my life, and what’s the longest stretch of time I’ve gone without hearing it? It’s about writing a song, but we used to pretend at Moody that it was about writing a term paper.

This was definitely the way to see a concert. A small venue with good views and sound, free parking within 300 feet of the door, and on the interstate headed for home 10 minutes after the music stopped. We were home shortly after 11.

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Bird #549 — Northern Pygmy-Owl

glaucidium gnoma

Friday, September 20, 2019 — 11:43 am

Palmer Lake, Colorado — Pike-San Isabel National Forest — Ice Cave Creek Trail

Nate Kauffman and I hiked up to the upper Palmer Lake Reservoir, then made the loop up over the ridge to the northern end of the Ice Cave Creek Trail. We hiked that trail back toward the reservoirs. We were near the south end where it winds down to the reservoir trail when I saw a small bird fly across the path and dive into a small spruce down the slope. From its direct flight and the way it headed for the center of the tree, I thought it was a woodpecker. I walked to the place where I could best see into the spruce and scanned with my binoculars.

Not a woodpecker. The owl was perched on a horizontal branch about five inches from the trunk, facing me. It was just above my eye-level about 45 feet away. Nate came up and I pointed out the owl. For the next 20 minutes we watched it and tried to get photos and videos. Neither of us had cameras, so all that follows was taken by holding our phones up to our binoculars.

The owl didn’t do much. When it wasn’t staring back at us, it was swiveling its head from side to side. We saw it throw up a pellet at one point. For a minute or so, it fluffed up its feathers and then preened under a wing.

It was tiny, about the size of a bluebird. It was brown and white, with white spots on its brown chest and brown streaks on its white belly. It’s eyes were yellow. It had prominent white eyebrows which gave it an angry look. We could see a couple of yellow toes, which were huge for a bird that size. Its long, thin tail was dark with thin white stripes.

Northern Pygmy-Owls are often active in the daytime, but they sit on interior branches in evergreens and so are not easy to see. I knew they were around—I hoped I would luck on one sometime. When I first realized what it was, I got a little giddy. I climbed a couple feet up-slope to get this photo without the view-blocking branch.

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Mets vs. Rockies — Coors Field

On a beautiful evening after a long and uneventful day of birding, Nate and I wandered over to Coors Field to see a Rockies Game. We parked in a sketchy dirt lot under a highway ramp for $20 and hid anything that might be conceived as valuable.

We bought our tickets at the gate. We sat in the upper deck just on the home plate side of first base. From this angle we could see the mountains in the distance. Our view of first base was obscured by the railings around a stairway, so we moved down to the front row. The view was better here, but after an inning four women showed up with tickets to the seats we were in. By this time, other people were sitting in our seats, so we moved down a section, still in the front row. The park wasn’t very crowded.

The game was a tight pitchers’ duel for the first five innings, but the Mets hit three home runs in the sixth including Pete Alonso’s league leading 48th. Charlie Blackmon hit a meaningless home run for the Rockies in the 9th. The Rockies looked lifeless, like the last-place club they are. There really wan’t much excitement in the game, but we had a pleasant, relaxing three hours and were home by 10:45.

Pete Alonso, with Tony Wolters behind the plate for the Rockies.

Nolan Arenodo, with Wilson Ramos catching for the Mets.

I had forgotten that Phil Regan—at 81 years of age—was the pitching coach for New York. He went out for a mound visit in the later innings and actually trotted off the field.

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Is It Still Birding When You Don’t See Many Birds?

Nate is in town for a week. We headed to Denver to bird on Tuesday. Our first stop was Sand Creek, where I saw the Groove-billed Ani 10 days ago. It’s been seen in the general vicinity every day since, but I had no idea where along the half mile of creek it was likely to be found. Since it spends chunks of time hunkered down in the vegetation, I figured we were in for a long search.

I parked in the same place I parked last visit and hiked to the top of the creek-side berm to see if other birders were around. We spotted two women along the creek just below us. They pointed out a sandpiper wading in the shallows and asked for help identifying it. It was my first Colorado Solitary Sandpiper, a bird I used to see regularly in Illinois.

They didn’t know where the ani was, but they pointed to a small island about 75 yards downstream where it hung out on several recent days. I headed that direction but had only gone about 15 yards when I spotted something dark on top of a patch of matted reeds on the other side of the creek. It was the ani, just hanging out next to a bottle someone had discarded.

It sat there looking around for maybe 10 minutes. A few other birders came by and we chatted with them. The ani took off upstream, landing briefly a few times, then perched on a branch on our side of the creek about 40 yards from where I’d first seen it. It acted a lot more alert here, calling, flicking its tail, and grabbing at something with its bill. After maybe three minutes, it took off again and disappeared below the bank we were standing on.

Nate and I headed to Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, just a couple miles away. We walked a loop trail around a pond and saw very little. Nate did manage to spot a couple Wilson’s Warblers, and we saw a Snowy Egret in the distance, but that was about it. I wanted to drive the loop road through the refuge and past the buffaloes, but the road was closed because the local prairie dog population has plague. The whole refuge felt dead and depressing.

Our next destination was Red Rocks Park to look for Peregrines and Barn Owls. We stopped at Bob’s Atomic Burgers in Golden for lunch on the way. We struck out on the falcons at Red Rocks, but we could see three Barn Owls on their cliff. Two women were standing nearby. They knew about the owls but weren’t sure where to see them. When they saw me looking through my scope, the asked if they could take a look. Of course, I said yes. This seems to be a regular occurrence when I’m looking at owls, but I don’t mind.

We drove to Chatfield State Park to look for the Sabine’s Gulls that have been there in the past few days. We also struck out on the gulls. Except for Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gulls, Killdeer, and White Pelicans, this park was also dead. We did manage to find two Baird’s Sandpipers. To get to them, we had to hike across an extensive, soft mud flat. On the way out, we crossed a small creek without mishap. On the way back, we had a hard time finding the place where we’d crossed it earlier. Nate miscalculated and ended up knee-deep in mud that he had to crawl out of. I kept searching until I found a safer place.

We’d spent an entire day birding in four places that should have been productive and saw a total of 26 species. That’s pathetic. I suppose any day of birding in Colorado that includes a Groove-billed Ani, Barn Owls should be considered a good day, but it wasn’t what I expected. But we had fun, so no complaints. We called off the birding around 4:00 and decided to go see the Rockies/Mets game at Coors Field (next post).

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