Touring an industry titan with the man of steel

“This was one of the hardest jobs in the world!” explained former steel union steward, Hector Nemes. Hector reflected on the past at a memorial he helped design dedicated to the 600 employees who lost their lives manning five dangerous blast furnaces.

The soft-spoken man toiled, sweat and bled for over three decades inside Bethlehem Steel, a hulking behemoth of promise and progress. During the years, he also fought tirelessly to save the jobs of hundreds of coworkers from layoffs and downsizing.

Bethlehem Steel was a true industrial titan during its heyday. The steel went to build hundreds of American landmarks like the Chrysler building, Rockefeller Center, Waldorf Astoria, Panama Canal, George Washington Bridge and Golden Gate.

Despite the perils, molten pig iron provided stability and fraternity. Sadly, when operations closed in 1995, it was a bittersweet moment for many.

Today, the post-apocalyptic dinosaur sits silent and empty but the campus is far from abandoned. All the mill buildings that surround the iconic structure were repurposed and revitalized into an arts and entertainment district. SteelStacks, as it’s called now, features a gambling emporium, a local PBS member station WLVT-TV and three outdoor music venues.

Blossoming trees have also taken root alongside trestles, bridges and giant towers. Tourists pay homage to its history reading informational kiosks and taking photos of it from the steel walkway.

If you have time, don’t miss this historic mill!

A dawn chorus at Ramshorn-Livingston Sanctuary

What do potato chips, Doritos and the expression ‘Who cooks for you all?’ have in common?    They are the words (or phrases) that certain birds love to sing.  In corresponding order: finches, wrens and owls, to be exact.

All those little chirps, whistles and trills made by certain bird species sound surprisingly human.   And, that can be a good thing when trying to identify birds hidden by foliage or flying too fast.  You don’t necessarily need a visual sighting to know what kind of species is about.

Audubon educator, Larry Federman, demonstrated his own unique gifts before our bird tour began.   His vocal chords reproduce the pitch, rhythm and tones of dozens of varieties.   The group was mesmerized.

This was my first official bird walk and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  A group of 15 gathered at the Ramshorn-Livingston Sanctuary in Catskill, NY sporting rain jackets, hiking shoes and high quality Bushnell binoculars.  I had a small crummy pair, bright blue in color, that could have been pulled out of a cereal box.

The Sanctuary is part of the Hudson River’s largest forested tidal swamp while the watershed is music to the ears of longtime birdwatchers.

We moved slowly along an old farm road to observe the habitats of Morning Dove (MoDo for short), Kinglet warblers, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, flocks of raspy Eastern Phoebe and the Tufted Titmouse (looks like a chickadee).   The shrieks of a Swamp Sparrow resonated like a heavy-duty Singer sewing machine.

The only bird I was able to see with the naked eye was the Red-winged Blackbird.   He perched atop cattails in an open field not far from the viewing platform.

“You’ll need to come back next Wednesday morning to see the Virginia Rail,” said Federman.  “It gets “bird-ier” as summer nears.”

The elusive Virginia Rail remained hidden in the dense undergrowth but, no matter, Federman with his whopping 400mm lens, was still able to find the secretive feathered friend after I broke off from the pack to head home.

These too are Larry’s finds:

Deep in the heart of bluebonnet country

PilotGirl just wrapped on a week’s worth of production in Texas Hill Country. What an adventure! Bombing around the backroads in a vintage pickup truck past longhorn cattle, rustic barns, wooden fences and creaky windmills.

Among the dozens of Texan icons captured, my favorite was the beloved bluebonnet wildflower. Samantha was equally excited to dance among the Lone Star state’s official flower – now in full bloom.

The quintessential violet-blue figures carpet both sides of Ranch Road 965 near a massive pink granite dome called Enchanted Rock. Not trampling over them isn’t easy. It’s not unusual to see carloads of families with pets pulling over to photograph the joy.

We snapped a few of our own:

Living the dream in Hipster Houston

PilotGirl is living the dream. I’m on assignment in Texas with former Travel Channel host, Samantha Brown. Cameras are rolling daily on the thriving metropolis of Houston, home of the Space Center, renowned Grand Opera house and more than 11,000 restaurants.

But, best of all, this cultural mecca is dripping in fun, funky, vibrant street art. It’s one of the many reasons we’re here.

“Damn! Look at your rig. That camera is so gangsta!” smiles my new street artist friend that goes simply by the nickname, Gonzo.

Whew! What a relief. With that comment, I’m accepted into the counter-culture lifestyle of hipster Houston. And what an amazing vibe this city breathes.

Gonzo spends the next 2 days with us, showing off eclectic neighborhoods where he and his spray paint buddies splash the sides of buildings, stairwells, train cars, and bridges with rainbow colors. The panoramas are larger than life.

While graffiti is illegal, street art is done by professionals with formal training and a ton of talent. The murals depict the life, culture and values unique to each artist and each neighborhood. Crowds of locals and visitors come to capture the murals with their i-phones, some are permanent, others are not.

My DP and I captured their blood, sweat and tears with drones, Osmo cameras, GoPros and more. There’s even a museum in town dedicated to the history of the craft: The GasAm.

Hiking the Lisha Kill Preserve

Need a quick hike to shed some stress from a tough day at work? Lisha Kill Preserve is a nice 2-mile loop found behind the Grange Hall on Rosendale Road in Niskayuna.

Then again, I’m not sure if I should be blogging about this because I just read that it’s actually closed between late February and early May in an effort to prevent erosion. But, then again, the warning was found online and there was nothing to indicate the same at the trailhead. Nevertheless, stay on the trails and you should be fine.

So, I took Mutti and pup to this old growth forest with trees well over 200 years old.

The trails, some steep climbs but mostly comfortable inclines, were complemented by two babbling brooks that circled tall hemlocks, oaks and white pines.

The path markers were a bit confusing so print out a map or take a photo of the map on kiosk before you go.

Despite the congestion of this area, we estimate we only saw the back of a few houses and not one other hiker.

The secret worlds of Weedon Island Preserve

With a few hours to kill before our flight home we found myself soaking in the last bit of sunshine among geckos and tricolored heron. No, not at a sticky, overcrowded beach, rather, strolling miles of boardwalk in the heart of mangrove world in the Tampa Bay Watershed.

The Weedon Island Preserve is home to a menagerie of strange species and exotic plants. It’s also a research and cultural center focused on preserving the prehistoric culture of the Florida Seminole Tribe. They thrived on Weedon Island some 1500 years ago, once a true island but now more of a low-lying peninsula.

Ancient artifacts like pottery, jewelry and throwing spears are on display in the zen-like building.

As tempting as it was to read the kiosks in the Center, vitamin D, naturally, won out. We took to miles of sunny trails that lead to lookout points, platforms and observation towers.

Fast moving lizards and flapping egrets scurried out of our way on beautiful footbridges built to accommodate handicap access to all 3,190 acres. The tropical hammocks and dense tidal swamps hummed with evening activity.

A couple hours flew by in a hurry. We didn’t want to leave, who would? Be sure to visit this extraordinaire place!