Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!

Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!
Deep in the Lair of the Perpetually Curious Fox

Friday, 6 December 2013

Hunt for the Northern Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)

Sorry for the long delay again in writing. Had a bit of a long-ish flu for a few weeks and still recovering.

Spent a few hours last Monday driving out of the city, to look for Rock Ptarmigans for dinner while waiting for our cat to have his teeth cleaned up at the veterinary clinic. Turned out he needed to have another molar extracted (ouch), but he's much better after the clean.

We did get a few (3, to be exact) ptarmigans for dinner, so I'm quite happy. They seemed to be more active just before sunrise, where they start eating up the grit off the roads to help them process their food. Ptarmigans (and all birds) don't have teeth, they rely on their muscular gizzards and small stones, sand and grit, to mush up their food prior to being absorbed. Although, strictly speaking, not all birds eat grit, either.

They are not the easiest bird to spot on snowy banks, or on the trees, as their feathers are completely white, and the "fluffiness" breaks up their silhouettes very well against the newly fallen snow. There are probably thousands of them out there, but we only saw a few groups that were flying as we passed.

They rely purely on their camouflage for defense, not being strong distance fliers. It's not uncommon for you to accidentally approach a flock sitting on the snowbank and suddenly there's a big flurry of flapping wings of birds taking off in a panic. They do not fly away very far (maybe 10 metres or so) after the first flurry, then they settle down again.

Thank you little birdies, for feeding us tonight!

Their feathers are very downy, it took nearly 2 hours to get home, and by the time I'm settled down to "dress" the birds (around 3pm -- we shot them around 10am), the birds are still very warm to the touch. That's how efficient their thermal wraps (feathers) are at keeping them warm in the ungodly cold (it was -35 deg C when we hunted) outside.

Processing game birds:

To be honest, this is my first attempt at processing a hunted game bird, and am very grateful for the wealth of knowledge out there on Youtube for step by step instructions.

A lot of people just "breast" the birds by doing the "step on wings and pull trick"

*** WARNING, the following video is possibly upsetting to non-hunters***

(all credit to Equip to Endure LLC for the video)

However, I tend to prefer the thigh and leg meat to the breast, so I tend to keep the whole birds whole by just skinning them. Birds like Ptarmigan are so delicate, I did not even need to use a knife, except for the initial cut just over their breast, and a pair of kitchen scissors to cut through the wing bone.

This video shows the method I followed to get the skin and feather off the birds we got. (All credit due to Sandrakarad)

It's not that hard to "peel off" the skin (and feathers) from a bird, especially if it's fresh (warm) and pliable. I imagine once rigor mortis sets in, and if the birds are frozen solid, the skinning trick might not be as successful.

And the results are:

Not to mention an extremely feathery kitchen counter, but not as feather as it could have been if you're plucking.

After removing the skin, gut the carcass as you would normally do for domestic fowls. I saved the livers, hearts and cleaned gizzards. They usually are the best bits (to me, that is). My other half prefers the breast meat, so we didn't fight over dinner ... much.

North American ptarmigans have feathered legs/feet, to help them walk on the snow better. It's like birdie snowshoes! Small mammals in the temperate zones that have long winters, such as Snowshoe Hares and Lynx also have the "snow shoe" adaptation to help them walk on snow without sinking.

Fluffy Bird Feet! Looks almost like rabbit's feet.

Thick feathers all the way down their fluffy toes
I did save the wings (drying them out), tail and feet. Might send them to some friends who like collecting "strange things from strange lands". :)

Cooking Ptarmigan:

There's no cut and dried methods of doing it, some people insist on aging them a day or two, but I do not find it necessary. I sprayed some olive oil, rubbed salt and pepper onto the whole birds, put them in a baking tin, and cover in foil. Then into the oven at 365 deg C for about 35-40 mins.

The general advice seemed to be not to over cook them; being game meat and very lean, it can get tough with over cooking. I did give a quick peek at minute 25 and squeezed some lemon juice on them, before recovering it with foil and back into the oven.

 Keeping things simple, nothing beats hot, fresh from the oven, baked ptarmigan, on jasmine rice, with generous pile of kimchi. Perfect winter's night meal.

And after I was done :) a fully picked clean roast birdie and the shots that was recovered. Taste-wise, it's like Very Tiny Tasty Goose. Red meat, not white. In fact it reminded me of Quail.

I was very curious about what the birds ate, so I took a photo of what's in one of the birds' crop:

The uneaten bits are given a decent Sky Burial and returned back to the wild critters. The local Ravens and Magpies ate well that night.

Perhaps for the next ptarmigan I'd boil it so I can rebuild the skeleton for display.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Northern Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

Went out looking for Ptarmigans today, but found a northern porcupine crossing the road in front of us. They don't run particularly fast (actually, they don't run at all. They sort of amble sedately from point A to point B).

Contrary to belief, they do not actually shoot quills. They do however, wave their tail around when cornered. If you're foolish enough to get close to them, then you get a face full of quills, as many dogs can testify.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Aurora borealis: Part 2 - Lake Providence, with some friends.

Some more photos of Aurora borealis taken on the 31st August 2013. We decided to drive out of town to have a better view. This time I was wearing a gigantic parka, I looked like Kenny from Southpark!

I like the way the trees are silhouetted against the aurorae.

The two friends we were with that night. They really, really loved this photo. It was me thinking to myself at the moment "hmmm.... I like the trees silhouette, how about silhouettes of people I like?"

I think, therefore I do.

The aurorae that night were particularly bright. The long exposure has one problem - the dancing curtain effect gets smeared out. The human eye is particularly good at seeing the minute details once it is night adjusted.

This is my favourite photo of the lot. The image above was taken with 15 seconds exposure. The camera's CCD and lens has filtered out a lot of the purple and magenta that was trailing under the green curtains.

The night sky around the aurora was a bit bluer than the camera is representing. Tweaking the colour saturation a bit.... Still missing the magentra trails underneath the green.

This was an accidental shot of a care going past just as the camera is finishing the 15 sec exposure. Actually it looked quite nice. Brings it closer to home, instead of just abstractly pointing to the horizon. Yes it was that gigantic. It was all over the sky, I just pointed and captured a piece of the whole show. Whirly whirly ectoplasm!

The Non-whirly areas are more ghostly green smears lighting the sky. Mind you, all those time the green were dancing all over the sky.

This is the aurora whirly dancing above the Lake.

And it changes colour, periodically.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Aurora borealis in the Sub-arctic part I: From our backyard (from mid-August)

Of course, as a physicist, the first thing I looked forward to in the North, as soon as the night skies were dark enough was the Aurora borealis. Just because I'm pretty ill all the time does not mean I have lost the ability to feel wonder and joy looking into the skies. It's like a balm for my ailing, frail, corporeal body.

These photos were taken in the backyard sometime in August, about 2am. Because of the urban light pollution, I had to point the camera towards the southern horizon (when usually Northern Lights are supposed to be in the Northern Horizon). This far North, it's practically overhead and all over, really.

15 seconds exposure

30 seconds exposure

15 seconds exposure

Just thought the moon behind the clouds looked heartbreakingly beautiful that night. Normal exposure (1/100 s)

Same moon behind clouds, but with 10 seconds exposure. That is how light it was at night when I took the aurora photos.
I spent about 3 hours in the cold and dark for these photos, and ended up with bronchitis for the next 2 weeks. LOL. Well worth it, though. Need to wear thicker parka for nighttime work next time. Lesson learnt the hard way, but SO WORTH IT!