Friday, February 26, 2010

Road Photo Friday: What I've Been Up To

Many of you faithful readers (all three of you) have sent me notes wondering where the hell I've been.  It's a bit flattering that my postings have been missed, let alone noticed -- so thanks.

The reason for my absence is a combined work/pleasure trip to Spain (and the accompanying catch-up back at home).  Mrs. Scampwalker accompanied me on the trip, and we were able to hook up with the NH family for some Catalonian fun (which for us typically means wandering the narrow streets of Barcelona, in search of the next fix of tapas, caƱas, or sidra).

After saying adios to the NH's, Mrs S and I explored Girona and Figueres, two smaller, but no less significant, cities in northeastern Spain.  Figueres is best known as the home of Salvador Dali, and we both enjoyed an Alice-In-Wonderland-style tour through his mind-bending museum there.

But the thing that'll stick with me most from the trip is Girona's Passeig de la Muralla, or the Passage of the Wall.  It was originally constructed in the third century B.C. to keep out marauding hordes, and spread across the mile-long rampart are turrets, lookout towers, and hundreds of slits designed to launch a hail of arrows at attackers.  Over these thousands of years, the city has been occupied by early Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Kabbalah Jews, French, Spanish, and now Catalonians -- more than 30 seiges in all.  So it's probably hard to argue that the wall was very effective.

What can't be argued, however, is the wall's supreme majesty and antiquity.  As we strolled along the narrow crest, I couldn't help but ponder those who had patrolled the wall under far more arduous times -- dating back to 300 years before Jesus Christ himself was in short pants.

And the views were stunning -- from Girona's old Jewish quarter to the verdant, rolling hills (which I must say, looked exceedingly birdy -- perdiz, anyone?), to the giant snow-capped Pyrenees beyond.

There's nothing like a little time off in a foreign land to put things into perspective.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hope From the Lone Star State: The Quail Coalition

If you've read any of my recent missives on quail conservation and the various organizations claiming to protect all things quail, you'll detect more than a little cynicism on my part. I've been a supporter of these organizations for most of my life, but I've pretty much concluded that their business model is outdated -- financially, geographically, and scientifically. Mix in a healthy dose of graft and corruption, and Gentleman Bob's future looks bleak.

Enter the Quail Coalition. This group was formed after the 12 Texas chapters of Quail Unlimited saw the writing on the wall last December. They voted to leave the beleagured group and form their own organization, and the Quail Coalition was born.

By far the most influential chapter to renounce its QU affiliation was Park Cities Quail, named for the tony Highland Park and University Park enclaves nestled inside Dallas. To be sure, the membership (read: earning power) of this group is not typical of most chapters -- over the last three years, they've raised over $1,000,000 for habitat. But that's neither here nor there.

The exciting news is that Park Cities Quail, along with other members of the Quail Coalition, give their hard-earned dollars to the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, a sprawling 4,700-acre living laboratory near Roby, Texas. RPQRR's sole mission is to "sustain Texas' wild quail hunting heritage for this and future generations." And let's face it, folks -- Texas is the last best place to find consistently good numbers of wild bobwhite quail and quail habitat.

Caretaker of the Ranch is Dr. Dale Rollins, a thoughtful and quick-witted gentleman who is one of the world's pre-eminent authorities on quail and quail habitat. He cruises the ranch in a custom-built quail buggy, inseparably with his team of "research assistants" -- Annie, Doc, Babe, and Ellie -- eager setters that have no idea how good they have it. He and fellow researchers are doing myriad studies on quail, including the effects of prickly pear cactus, range fires, and predation, to name a few. It's fascinating research, and anyone who's a bird hunter should subscribe to the RPQRR email newsletter. Click on the video below to hear directly from Dr. Rollins.

When you consider that quail prefer to live their life in seclusion from anything that's not part of the covey, you quickly understand that Dr. Rollins has an immense job to decipher the riddle of the quail. But if anyone's up to the task, Dr. Dale is the man. All it takes is time -- and money.

That's why I'm throwing my (admittedly meager) resources at the Quail Coalition. Dr. Rollins is doing the most in-depth, qualitative research on bobwhite quail of anyone on earth, and he's doing it in an area where at least initially, it can have the most impact. Let's protect the wild resource in Texas that we've got before we try to reintroduce quail willy-nilly in areas with marginal habitat at best.

The Park Cities chapter has their banquet on March 11. I won't be there, but my money will be. What about you?  You don't have to pick QC... just pick a group that you can support.  Bob depends on it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Road Photo Friday: Laissez Bon Temps Roulez!!

In honor of Mardi Gras, I bring you this heartwarming photo of a Bourbon Street gutter, adorned in human detritus and debris accumulated from the previous evening's festivities. Taken early one morning almost exactly five years ago, the image still summons that watery, woozy, pre-vomit feeling that I was experiencing at the time I snapped the shot. It was back in 2006, the first Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina. I was there as a guest of RK, who was honored with playing one of the local Krewes.  The city then was down, but not out. Today, it's still not what it once was, but thanks in part to the Saints, the town once again has a swagger and a spring in its step. As it should be... while some like the ersatz glitter of Las Vegas, I've always preferred the gritty, grimy, fun-loving, and storied charm of the Big Easy. Welcome back, New Orleans.  Let the good times roll!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reckless Kelly - Somewhere In Time

Be sure to take a listen to Reckless Kelly's new effort, Somewhere In Time, which hit the streets yesterday.  It's a "tribute album" to Pinto Bennett, one of RK's role models growing up.  It's definitely more straightforward country music than some of their more recent work, but definitely not in the Top Forty Shorty country way (and that is indeed a good thing).  They describe it as a collection of "hardcore cowboy songs," and that's about as accurate a description as I've heard.  So wherever your musical tastes fall -- either twang or crunch -- check these dudes out.

A few buddies and I, including Jon from Four Seasons of Bird Hunting, got a chance to check them out last Friday night in scenic Pittsburg, Kansas and they did not disappoint (though I was a bit surprised they didn't play more stuff from Somewhere).  I'll be excited to see how they adapt these tunes to their live set.  Once again, I was struck by the diverse audience these guys attract -- college fratboys, sorority chicks, cowboys, rednecks, rockers, and families.  It's good to know there are still a few people out there that know good music when they hear it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Road Photo Friday: Snowblower Train

This episode of Road Photo Friday features a series of photos taken by a buddy's family member, who works for the BNSF Railroad. They were taken near Seward, Nebraska in early January. The midwest has been ransacked by crappy winter weather this year, and we're in the midst of yet another snowstorm as I write this -- so I thought these images were particularly fitting today.

I guess I've always kind of wondered what happens when train tracks are drifted over with snow, and now I know. You bring in the snowblower car!

Apparently, this miles-long freight train got stuck in drifts up to 12-feet deep along the rail line, which is hard to imagine in and of itself -- truly a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.

The "rotary snow blower" is dispatched to come in from the opposite end -- clearing a path by blowing the snow over 100 feet into the air. Beats the hell out of shoveling, eh?

Once its job is done, the freight train can smash through the last few feet of snow and start moving down a trench that looks like something from the Ice Planet Hoth.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation: Will It Fly?

This just in to the Scampwalker newsdesk... the fledgling Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation is making a plea to join its cause in this newly-minted press release. (Thanks to an alert reader for sending it my way.)

Read the text for yourself, but to me it appears like this document is heavy on throwing barbs at Quail Unlimited, yet short on details about how it intends to curb the demise of the bobwhite quail. To be fair, it's hard to blame the QUWF's founder, Craig Alderman, for being bitter towards an organization that fired him (even if opinions vary widely about exactly where and how to spread the blame). But if this upstart club is going to be successful, it would seem to me it would be smarter to outline the positive goals of the group instead of settling old scores.

So... on one hand, we've got a QU on life support, hoping to regain some badly-needed credibility. On the other hand, we've got an unproven QUWF struggling to get off the ground. Neither option appears promising, particularly in this stumbling economy.

Thankfully, there's a door number three. I'm finishing up some research and will report on that shortly.