Beer and Birds with the Brits

It was worth all of the pains of preparation to spend a little more than a week with our friends from England, mostly touring the state of Pennsylvania in search of birds, but taking in plenty of good beer, too.  Mike and Rae were terrific house guests and it was a lot of fun taking them all around our state.

Things really got started on Friday when we took off for Pittsburgh (that’s also when the weather took a turn for the worse, but we made the best of it.)  Between raindrops, we searched the flooded fields and swollen lakes for birds, and had a really great time of it – Red-Headed Woodpeckers; Caspian, Common and Black Terns; Common Loon; Ruddy Duck; Green Heron.  There were lots of great birds out there which were enjoyable to watch when the rain slowed.

Inside, we found lots of great beer. Our first stop was lunch at the Jean Bonnet where were one of best beers we had was Monkey Boy from East End Brewing Company.  We were pleased when we checked into the Four Points Sheraton in Cranberry.  It appears that the Chief Beer Officer (CBO) has been doing his job – among other decent beers, they had Arrogant Bastard in bomber bottles which we shared and introduced to the Keuhl’s (who continued to enjoy it all weekend.)  Later that night, we headed out to Mad Mex where my beer was the always-yummy Ithaca Flower Power.

On Saturday, we had a fabulous morning walk at Raccoon Creek State Park, which was full of woodland birds.  The hills allowed us to get great views of the treetops, and the birds were abundant.  Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager and Red-Eyed Vireo were among the long list of birds observed. And after a nice walk, we looked forward to lunch with a small group of friends at Church Brew Works where I especially enjoyed my short glass of Pipe Organ Pale Ale on cask. The visit to “church” was followed up by a visit to East End Brewing to pick up a bottle of Gratitude and do a bit of tasting.

As part of my campaign to “Take Back the Basement in 2008,” I was not opposed to having a few people up to our room later that night for a little tasting. Since it was the conference hotel, a steady stream of visitors came through the door, and we ridded ourselves of a little more than a case, attempting to match people to new beers.

Sunday was windy, cold and wet, but our patience paid off while looking for our target bird – Upland Sandpiper – in the reclaimed strip mines.  What better way to celebrate a good day in Butler County than by going to North Country Brewing Company for lunch, and then taking a great walk at Buttermilk Hill. Our friends Kathie and Jerry hosted all four of us, and helped us target a few key species such as Purple Finch and Swainson’s Thrush. Kathie even sent Jerry out with hot hors d’oeuvres and excellent beer (Eel River Triple Exhultation Ale was the favorite of our crew) while we waited for the Woodcock to make his appearance.

In the morning, we took a great walk down to French Creek, where we got excellent views of a Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-throated Green, Cerulean Warbler and Blue-headed Vireo. It was quite a day and, as always, a great visit, but we had more beer and birds ahead.

Monday afternoon was filled with birding in Cook Forest State Park, several attempts for Henslow’s Sparrow (which were met with success at Troy Hill Road outside Phillipsburg.)  The skies cleared and the winds slowed as we approached State College, so we spent our evening in the Scotia Barrens, where Ruffed Grouse, Woodcock and Whip-poor-wills were abundant (and we also saw Striped Skunk!) There was no better way to celebrate these elusive birds than to enjoy a really nice dinner (crab cakes for Mike and I) at Otto’s Pub & Brewery where pitchers of Arthur’s Mild Ale were on special. Our British friends discovered Double D IPA, which has long been one of my favorites and quickly became one of theirs.

Things looked positive on Tuesday, and we headed over to Bald Eagle State Park for several things, including Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Golden-winged Warbler and, of course, Bald Eagle. From there, we drove north to East Branch Swamp Natural Area in the Sproul State Forest. We had some nice mixed flocks on the way there and also in the swamp, but the rain began to fall heavily, so we changed our plan a bit and headed to Woolrich for a little shopping instead. This ended out chances for finding our English friends a porcupine or black bear, but the rain and wind were extremely frustrating.

Next, it was time for lunch, and we were very close to Williamsport, so Bullfrog Brewery was our destination. With my lunch, I particularly enjoyed a glass of Chocolate Bock, described by the brewery as “a rich, dark German-styled bock beer brewed with eleven pounds of Belgian dark chocolate,” weighing in at 6.8% ABV and served in a 12-oz glass. D enjoyed an Imperial pint of Coffee Cream Stout, described as “a coffee and beer lovers delight” with “10 pounds of freshly roasted Sumatran Mandling coffee and 55 pounds of lactose giving this beer a smooth and creamy coffee flavor,” and measuring 5.8% ABV. And being big fans, of course we got a growler of the Smoked Porter to take home and share with D’s parents. Mike and Rae discovered our family favorite – Edgar IPA – which they enjoyed immensely.

Lunch was followed up by a visit to Bavarian Barbaraian where we finally got to have our taster of Weldspatter IPA which poured a dark amber with a large, creamy head and an herbal aroma. It had a heavy, bitter hop flavor and very little sweetness – it is well balanced and well done. We took a growler of that home, too.  It was nice to hang out a bit with the Heller’s and chat, and for the ride home, the weather cleared a bit.

We stopped off at Weaver’s, which is an Amish farm market and bakery on Route 15 with fresh vegetables, plants, jams, and delicious baked goods such as bread, whoopie pies, fruited pies and cookies. It is just south of Port Trevorton on the Susquehanna River, and should not be missed.  We went home with Shoofly pie, blueberry pie, rhubarb pie, two kinds of whoopie pie, raisin-filled cookies and seven-grain bread.

I had to return to work on Wednesday, but D made sure Mike and Rae made the best of their last two days of birding in PA.  They also got a chance to visit Tröegs, and last night, we tripped up to Selin’s Grove Brewing for supper (joined by Nana and Pop, and Tina, who just flew in from Germany.) Several of us enjoyed the SNAFU IPA, which was on cask, and I had my glass of Phoenix Kreik. I hear rumor that for a final beer stop, they did go to Sly Fox Brewing today, but haven’t gotten details on which pub or what was tasted.

It was a busy little tour, and we’re so glad we finally had an opportunity to take them around our state. They went home with healthy bird lists, and a nice taste for the beers available to us in PA, and it was brilliant fun for us to be in their company.

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Desert Birding and Babe’s

On New Year’s Eve day, we took a wonderful hike with Bob and Dianne in Carrizo and Dead Indian Canyons where we were thrilled to observe a beautiful male Desert Bighorn Sheep (aka Peninsular Bighorn Sheep) for quite a long time, and we climbed up a small waterfall in the canyon to take lunch a hidden oasis.  This was the last day to hike the canyon before it closes for the breeding season, so we were lucky to have such a beautiful day.

                         Desert Bighorn Sheep               D in Joshua Tree

After our hike, we dined and tasted beer at Babe’s B-B-Que Grill before returning home to relax. We needed to get to bed early because January 1 was the Joshua Tree Christmas Bird Count. At Babe’s, D had two beers which I may comment more on later. I opted out of beer and just tasted his, as I didn’t think there could be anything “that great” after our trip to San Diego.

It was cold in Joshua Tree today, and a little windy, but it is mostly the dry conditions that accounted for the lack of bird life. We had a nice time, exploring the park, but we didn’t add a lot of species to the list.  Birds included:

  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Raven
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Golden Eagle
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • White-throated Swift
  • Rock Wren
  • California Thrasher
  • Gambel’s Quail
  • Phainopepla
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Western Scrub Jay
  • Red-tailed Hawk

Now for the long red-eye flight home…

North San Diego County Breweries

Our morning started with the excitement of a visit by Guillermo – the resident roadrunner who comes by the house to feed on crickets and cockroaches caught around the house, as well as mealworms to suppliment his diet. 

After a great (people) breakfast of enchilada tortillas and grapefruit fresh from the yard, we took a morning walk through the Coachella Valley Preserve, located on the San Andreas Fault near Palm Springs. We toured the Paul Wilhelm Grove and the McCallum Grove, adding birds to our trip list and enjoying the beauties of the desert. In addition to the birds, we were blown away by the number of fish, dragonflies and a crayfish hiding away in the cool oasis.

After our walk, D and I headed for the coast.  We’re on a two day tour of the breweries, pubs and beer bars of southern California.  Two days won’t cover it all, and will leave me too tired for details right now, but here is where we were:

We enjoyed some great beers, some really good food and met lots of fun new people.  Unfortunately, I’m so tired out from the day, I’m putting off lists and comments to a later date.

Desert Birding and Back Street Brewery

This morning we had a late start (we got into La Quinta after 3 AM in “our time” so we needed the sleep!), but finally got out to do some birding near the Salton Sea in the late morning.  Our hosts, Bob and Dianne, knew just where to go for nice views of the water birds at the Sea and a beautiful walk through San Andres Oasis.

After a day of birding, we stopped off at Oasis Date Garden for date shakes, and then visited the Coachella Valley Wild Bird Center to meet some of Dianne’s friends (Rodney the Roadrunner was one of my favorite!)  We stopped at Trader Joe’s because it’s always a treat to go there, and then returned to the house for a yummy dinner of homemade enchiladas.

Our after-dinner entertainment was the Mr. Christmas Santa’s Marching Band (this video is not HER set, but you get the idea…funny, funny stuff, and pretty darn talented!) 

We ended our night with a trip to Back Street Brewing in La Quinta, which is part of the Lamppost Pizza chain.  There were 7 beers on tap, with guest taps including Framboise.

  • Crossroads Cream Ale
  • Heritage Hefeweisen
  • Jagged Lil’ Pilsner 
  • Rita’s Red
  • Ron’s Pale Ale
  • E.R. IPA
  • Saint Nick’s Treasure

Our bird list for the day (not in order of appearance):

  1. Eared Grebe
  2. American White Pelican
  3. Brown Pelican
  4. Double-crested Cormerant
  5. Great Blue Heron
  6. Great Egret
  7. Snowy Egret
  8. Green Heron
  9. Canada Goose
  10. Northern Pintail
  11. Northern Shoveler
  12. Gadwall
  13. Ruddy Duck
  14. Osprey
  15. Northern Harrier
  16. Red-tailed Hawk
  17. American Kestral
  18. Gambel’s Quail
  19. American Coot
  20. Killdeer
  21. Black-necked Stilt
  22. Greater Yellowlegs
  23. Least Sandpiper
  24. Bonaparte’s Gull
  25. Ring-billed Gull
  26. California Gull
  27. Herring Gull
  28. Yellow-footed Gull
  29. Caspian Tern
  30. Rock Dove
  31. Mourning Dove
  32. Common Ground Dove
  33. Costa’s Hummingbird (at the house!)
  34. Northern Flicker
  35. Say’s Phoebe
  36. Common Raven
  37. Verdin
  38. Cactus Wren
  39. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  40. Northern Mockingbird
  41. American Pipit
  42. European Starling
  43. Orange-crowned Warbler
  44. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  45. Sage Sparrow
  46. White-crowned Sparrow
  47. Brewer’s Blackbird
  48. Great-tailed Grackle
  49. House Finch
  50. Lesser Goldfinch

Alibis is Hoppin’

In general, Carlisle (PA) has never had a lot to offer the beer drinker, but it’s where I work and close to the hawkwatch, so we end up downtown a lot.  For ages, our only real choice was Market Cross Pub, which is a reliable place – especially for the bottled beer selection – but rarely offers anything spectacular on tap.

The problems with Market Cross are that it is so popular that they cram the tables in there so tight that it is uncomfortable, and there is hardly a difference between the smoking and non-smoking sections.  The draft selection is not awful, but also not very exciting.

As of today, the tap list was last updated Feb. 2007 and lists the following:

Market Cross Red Ale, Market Cross Pub Porter, Market Cross Olde Yeller IPA, Youngs Double Chocolate Stout, Bass Ale, Guinness Stout, Leffe Blonde, Harp Lager, Boddington’s Pub Ale, Smithwicks, Stella Artois, Yuengling Lager, Corsendonk Pale Ale, Lindeman’s Framboise, Weizen tap (changing varieties), draft cider (varies) and there is always a Cask Conditioned Ale.

They also do LOTS of beer blends and blends of soda and beer.  We’re talking about at least 17 beers on tap (I thought they had 20), and only one or two that really interest me.  None that impress me.

So when the hawkwatchers wanted to come down from the mountain for some great beers and good food on Saturday, I began to tell them about my last experience at Alibis Eatery and Spirits.  B-Susan and I popped in three nights ago on Halloween to treat ourselves, and decided to do a flight of 6 7-oz samples which, IMHO, included a really great line-up. 

In addition to the nice selection of draft beers and a varied selection of foods on the menu, Alibis offers a clean, less crowded, non-smoking atmosphere.  This was a MUCH better choice than a table in the smoking section at Market Cross.

The last time I posted about Alibis was a year ago, and I’ve been there many times since.  For awhile they were carrying a strong selection of lagers and pilsners – not my favorite – and some slightly flavorful ales.  But lately they have really stocked themselves with bigger beers, and last night we were thrilled with the hop possibilities.  We were treated to the following:

Additionally, on Wednesday night, B-Susan and I enjoyed:

Alibis carries a decent selection of bottled beers as well.  And they are offering a PA beer drinking t-shirt program:

Alibis is proud to offer more than 100 different beer selections, by the bottle and on draft. We also offer the areas only Pennsylvania Beer Tour; 38 quality brews representing PA’s great brewing heritage. Take the tour and we’ll pay homage to your efforts with the gift of a commemorative shirt!

They also have a great menu.  Everyone I’ve been there with loves their grilled selections – grilled chicken, burgers and steak salad.  I had the grilled salmon last night (glazed with Terrapin mustard; served with grilled portabella mushrooms, fresh asparagus, red bell peppers, and wilted greens in a roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette) and a salad with cumin dressing (WOW!)  Other favorites are the grilled portabella and roasted red pepper sandwich, the grilled cheese (this is not your Kraft American grilled cheese…choose Mild or Wild, made with local cheese!) and the pulled pork barbeque.

Alibis is doing a great job servicing my hop desires, and judging from the size of the crowds I’ve been witnessing, they seem to be fulfilling those of others as well.  I hope they don’t let the martini thing get bigger than the beer thing, and I hope chef Jason Turner keeps up the great taste and beautiful presentation.

If you go…check the entertainment schedule.  It can range from a “meet the brewer night” to karaoke, live rock bands and football, and can certainly change the experience.

Traveling

After a week in Salt Lake City and two weeks in Mexico (and no good beer to speak of!), I been playing too much catch-up to blog.

We did brew a Cherry Vanilla Porter on the Sunday of our return, but other than that, I’ve been concentrating on work ever since.  And thank goodness Scott blogged about it so I don’t have to play catch-up with that one…

Today I learned about this great website I could have used during all of my October travels: the Airport Wireless Internet Access Guide.  Not that I could blog on WordPress from my Palm, but I could have been seeking out the best airport brewpubs using my handheld device.

Oh Canada! (Good birds and Great Beer – Bushwakker!!)

We crossed the border into Montana and spent the morning birding at Medicine Lake NWR (I had terrific looks at my lifer Baird’s Sparrow, heard (and saw Sprague’s Pipit displaying and there were Marbled Godwits everywhere – lots of good birds on this large expanse of habitat!)

Then it was on to Regina, Saskatchewan where we enjoyed a long lunch at Bushwakker Brewing Company.  Mitch, the brewer, gave us a great tour with a taste of a few things to come.  This place is TERRIFIC!  I’ll get details posted later.  I have SO much to say about it.  This place was absolutely worth the trip.

Tonight we’re sleeping in Brandon, Manitoba (we slipped off to Douglas last night to listen to Yellow Rail in the marsh – another life bird for me, if I count “heard birds”), and searching for a route home.  We’ll probably go across the top of Lake Superior and drop down through Michigan.We’re at 17.5 hours of daylight, but D says we can sleep in tomorrow!

Birding Nebraska

Terrific opportunities for hiking and birds here!  The West-of-Mississippi trip list is up to 140 now. We visited the Nebraska National Forest, Miles Ranch on US 83, Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Snake River Falls, Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Falls State Park and slept in Pierre, SD.  Details to follow.

Lb. Brewing (Hays, KS)

As I stated in my last post, we were glad that the birding was so awesome at Quivira NWR last evening, because our morning birding on the south drive wasn’t very productive. We repeated the north drive just for fun, and did pick up a few new birds, plus got a great look at black-necked stilt babies (not a very long look, as we didn’t want to upset the parents!)

We drove back to Grand Rapids, KS by way of Ellinwood – a cute little town with wheat sheaths on the lightpoles – where we found Mississippi Kites and Eurasian Collard Doves.   We continued on to Liebenthal where we followed the advice of Leo from Mo’s and picked up some Pat’s Beef Jerky.

There was no coffee this morning, so combine with the monotony of the drive from Grand Rapids to Hays, I fell right asleep. I woke up as we were driving into Hays from the south, and it looked like a sleepy little town (coming in from the north, it looks like any other larger town on an Interstate exit – busy with gas stations, convenience stores, fast food and chain restaurants.)

We located Gella’s Diner & Lb. Brewing Company, and things were far from sleepy in there! This place has a clean, fresh look that ranked it as a restaurant fitting for any major U.S. city. The literature described it as “inspired by icons of the Midwest”, with it’s handpainted farm murals, industrial agriculture lighting, open spaces and references to early railroad (one of the most obvious references was a part of the restaurant sectioned off my box-car style sliding doors.

This building, built in 1922, was used by Western Union and Midwest Energy, then closed up for many years until local investors were inspired to create the pub. The brick walls, light wood and use of metal piping and brushed aluminum against black surfaces gave clean lines to the entire place. Even the bathroom sinks were great – gooseneck faucets over flat white marble – the sinks were at least 1.5″ x 1.5″ with a 1″ lip.

“Fesh” is their motto, with as many ingredients as possible homemade and homegrown (mustards, dressing and ice cream all made in house; meats with no preservatives and never frozen, vegetables prepared on site and nothing ever microwaved.) The only contradiction to this were the colorful jars of pickled vegetable products that lined large sections of walls – giving the place beautiful color, although I noticed they were pickled products from Jake & Amos in Lancaster, PA. Continue reading