Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thy rod and thy staff do comfort me.

A demonstration of what the US presence in Iraq means.



What could go wrong?

Robots to Guard Schools

Why does this bring vision of Daleks roaming the halls asking for passes and then shouting “Exterminate!” when no pass is produced?

(Not that I think that would be a bad thing. I still like the old Funky Winkerbean with the machine gun mounted on the hall monitor's desk.)

Faulty Fax Causes panic …

Where else but in Massachusetts. The same place where a cartoon promotion went south and the city of Boston shut down for the better part of a day.
A faulty bank fax printed a message that was misinterpreted as a bomb threat Wednesday, leading authorities to evacuate more than a dozen neighboring businesses and a day care center.
The pictures—a clock and a match lighting a bomb came through but not the text saying, “The countdown begins…Small Business Commitment Week June 4-8 Mark your Calendar.”
The branch manager of the Bank of America called police about 10 a.m. after receiving a fax containing images of a lit match and a bomb with a fuse
There may have been some extenuating circumstances which caused the branch manager to call the police:
Fears also arose because the branch received a suspicious package delivered by a customer around the same time, police said. A State Police bomb squad searched the bank branch and checked out the package, which was a delivery of documents.
But it still seems to me that the folks in Massachusetts are wound up so tight that they make they’d probably bounce like a super ball if you threw them against a wall.
About 15 small businesses in a shopping plaza were evacuated for about three hours, including a day care center with about 30 children, Police Chief Scott Rohmer said.
So the bank gets a “suspicious” fax and a package that turns out to be documents and everybody in the strip mall as to shut down. Now who will compensate those 15 businesses for lost income?

The fax was sent to the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank's branches in parts of New England, New York and New Jersey. It did not result in any other bomb scares at other branches, Anguilla said.

Mule deer does defend ALL fawns,
Whitetail, eh, not so much

In fight or flight situations, female mule deer and whitetail deer behave differently.

Mule Deer Moms Rescue Other Fawns

By playing recordings of fawns being attacked by coyotes, researchers have been studying the behavior of mule deer and whitetail deer. They have found mule deer doe’s to be much more aggressive defenders of fawns whether they are their own or some other doe’s. Whitetail does, on the other hand respond tentatively to the cries of the fawns, quickly access the situation, and withdraw once they are aware this isn’t their fawn doing the bawling.
"Having a rigid and aggressive response to the simple sound of a fawn distress call may ensure effective defence of a female's own offspring, even though this means the female invests time and energy and puts herself at risk by helping many other animals. In contrast, a whitetail mother waits to assess whether a fawn is her own before she steps in to defend it. As a result, whitetail fawns suffer considerably more predation during the first months of life than do mule deer fawns."

Mule deer may have developed a more effective aggressive defence because they rely on fighting to protect themselves against predators year-round, while whitetails and many other species restrict aggressive defence to just the youngest fawns. Whitetails rely on flight rather than fight for most of their lives, so this may affect their ability to mount an aggressive defence," Lingle said.

This might explain why I see a lot of white tails disappearing into the forest during hunting season. The whitetail has got the same philosophy as a Rincewind (a "wizzard" on Disc World) when it comes to choosing fight or flight. Running from is much better than running to.

Still doesn’t explain why whitetail deer are encroaching on the mule deer habitat in the Midwest and apparently out competing them.

Cowardly Tiger Cubs

Don't know what these tiger cubs were afraid of. The little fluffy chicks look harmless enough.

Chicks and Cubs

Endangered? Or an Excuse?

U.S. to Study Protection for Alaska Loon
A petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for a rare loon that breeds in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve has been accepted for review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Conservationists hope an eventual listing of the yellow-billed loon will curb petroleum development in the 23-million acre reserve that covers much of Alaska's western North Slope.

The petition was filed three years ago by the Center for Biological Diversity. , the National Resource Defense Council , Pacific Environment and other U.S. and Russian scientific and conservation organizations.
This is an environmental story of an alleged endangered species with a “must stop oil drilling” mantra in the background. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be another Spotted Owl episode.

From Cornell Labs All About Birds: Spotted Owl
Conservation Status
Because of its preference for old-growth forests, it is heavily affected by clear-cut logging. The northern form is considered Endangered in Canada and Threatened in the United States. The California form is a species of special concern in California, and the Mexican form is considered as Threatened in the United States and Mexico. Listed on the Audubon Watchlist.

(Here’s the 2007 Draft Recovery Plan for the Spotted Owl: 2007 Draft Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl Now Available for Public Comment)

During the heated debate about the Spotted Owl, claims of incredibly small populations were circulated making one think they were as rare as Whopping Cranes or California Condors. People chained themselves to trees to prevent loggers in the Pacific Northwest from doing their jobs. Eventually, the spotted owl was listed as either Endangered or Threatened in much of coastal Canada and the US. Afterwards, studies of the real population indicated they may very well be far more numerous than thought. Much of the action on the Owl’s behalf was from those who opposed logging. They just shopped for a species that would serve their purpose and created a firestorm f hyperbole to push the Endangered and Threatened labels. And these preservationists won the day to some extent. Logging operations were shut down, some mills had to close and lots of people lost jobs.

If the same thing is going on here, environmentalists using the yellow-billed loon as a means of halting oil exploration in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve…. Well, you can only cry wolf so many times before people start to catch on.
The yellow-billed loon breeds in tundra wetlands in Alaska, Canada and Russia, and winters along the west coasts of Canada and the United States.

Petroleum development through leasing ordered by President Bush could reduce its numbers, said Brendan Cummings, ocean program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

"The yellow-billed loon is one of the rarest and most vulnerable birds in the United States, yet the Bush administration's plan to 'protect' it is to approve oil drilling in its habitat," Cummings said.
Of course! It’s all Bush’s fault. Don’t suppose you fly to any conferences or even drive anywhere do you Mr. Cummings? And you live in a very small, environmentally friendly, super-duper efficient home. Right?

Just how rare is the yellow-billed loon?
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 16,500 yellow-billed loons in the world, including 3,700 to 4,900 that breed in Alaska. More than 75 percent of the Alaska breeders nest in the petroleum reserve. Smaller numbers breed on the Seward Peninsula and on St. Lawrence Island.
Approximately one-third of the yellow-billed loon population nests in Alaska. And they are notoriously poor at raising a family.
The large-bodied birds have low reproductive success and depend on high annual adult survival to maintain population levels. Individual birds must live many years before they can reliably replace themselves with offspring that survive long enough to breed, according to the agency.[Fish and Wildlife Service]

So if the drilling does occur, it could have a substantial impact on yellow-billed loon survival according to these numbers. Right?

But, let’s go back a few years when oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was first discussed. Environmentalists were up in arms about how this activity would affect the caribou in the area being opened for drilling. After all the hollering was done and people pointed to the maps of the drilling area, Area 1002 which consisted of 1.5 million acres, was an area bordered the Prudhoe Bay area that has been in production for years. The remaining 19 million acre ANWR was to be left untouched. That left a whole lot of habitat for the caribou to roam.

Check out the maps from the Sierra Club via the link in the given here. The "1002" Area

The area to be drilled this time around, consists of 4.6 million acres within the 22 million acre National Petroleum Reserve. Granted, 4.6 million acres sounds llike a lot of land to someone who might live on a ¼ acre in a typical suburban setting or maybe a 5 acre lot in some more swanky development, but let’s put the numbers in perspective. Alaska measures 424,490,880 acres (663,267 sq. miles). They don’t mention where in Alaska the loon nests, but even if all of the NPR were open to drilling, the loon would still have over 400 million acres in which to find suitable habitat. Let’s say there are 500 yellow-billed loons that nest in Alaska. The loons, of course pair up to mate (their not that looney)so there are 2,500 pairs of loons, each pair looking for that perfect hideaway. Take the 424,490,880 acres of Alaska and subtract the 4,600,000 acres in the proposed drilling area and that leaves each pair of loons over 167,950 acres in which to find a lake that contains some fish for food and a suitable nest site.
The agency's finding, called a 90-day finding despite the filing of the original petition in March 2004, is based on scientific information provided by the conservation groups.

They cite threats including destruction and modification of habitat due to development and pollution and lack of regulatory protection.

Birds that breed in Alaska spend winters off the coast of Russia and face drowning in fishing nets, plus threats from petroleum development in the Sea of Okhotsk, Cummings said.

Yellow-billed loons do not recover easily from population declines, are susceptible to disturbance and may be vulnerable to habitat loss, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Inundation of their freshwater breeding areas by saltwater levels rising because of global warming is another threat, Cummings said. However, oil and gas development in nesting areas is foremost in the petitioners' minds.
"Industrializing the Arctic is not the way to protect a rare bird," he said.
Of course, global warming threats are to be considered as well.

(All emphasis is mine.)The information being provided is that of the environmental groups who have apparently already decided they drill should not be permitted. I wonder just how independent the researchers were or if any research that is not along the lines of the "no drilling" crowd will make it to the Fish and Wildlife Service's desk.

If this turns out to be a case built on hyperbole, something that may be difficult to determine considering the location of the yellow-billed loons habitat--the area in question is so remote that there are NOT a lot of people in the area to take measurements and make observations--the entire environmental movement will receive another mark against its reputation. Enough of those and it will be difficult to pay attention to warnings when they are real.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

*Sigh* Only in America

Illegal immigrants sue indicted janitorial firm for back wages
Illegal immigrants who worked long shifts scrubbing theme restaurants for an indicted janitorial firm have signed their names to a lawsuit seeking unpaid wages.

Some were rounded up in federal workplace raids in February and deported, they say, before receiving their final paychecks. Others worked 80- or 100-hour weeks for years without earning overtime pay or even the prevailing minimum wage, the suit charges.

The janitorial firm had contracts with well-known restaurant chains including the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood and the House of Blues, and took in as much as $10 million a year.
Sigh Okay, they (the ILLEGAL aliens) got shafted by their employer, a firm that is now in government hands. They definitely deserve to be paid a wage commensurate with the labor laws. BUT, they did put themselves in this position by first entering the country illegally.
The attorneys are trying to reach the approximately 200 immigrants detained in the February raids, which targeted 63 restaurants in 18 states that used Rosenbaum-Cunningham workers.

"Some of our clients were deported, some left voluntarily and some were not picked up at all," Hewka said. "The challenge right now is finding them."
Hey, good luck with that. Do you think those that remained in the country will step forward to be part of this suit? Only if S. 1348 passes and they get their Z-card first. They have seen their coworkers either depart for home or get deported. I think it’s pretty safe to say the won’t be coming out of the shadows anytime soon. I'm actually surprised that enough of them came out to file this suit.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Atta Boy, Rodney

U.S. Congressman chases down pick-pocket

I saw this headline the other day but didn’t click on it. Today, I saw on another site that it was Rodney Frelinghuysen, my old Congressman, who did the chasing and nabbing.

He showed up at several of our Boy Scout functions (Courts of Honor, etc.), local high school football games, and, of course, many of the parades in Morristown, NJ. He always impressed me as being an honorable man and in real good physical shape. Both qualities that are difficult to find in N.J. politicians.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, was walking in the area when a group of young men came up behind him. Frelinghuysen felt someone grab at his wallet and when he turned, the would-be robber took off….

Rodney always talked the talk about self responsibility, guess he can walk the walk, too.
Frelinghuysen, 61, gave chase and caught the suspect a short distance away. Two passing police officers saw the chase and arrested the 18-year-old suspect, the report said.
The perp probably played to many video games and didn’t get enough exercise. When Rodney caught up to him, the perp must have decided it was best to go quietly rather than have the story get out about how he got wrestled to the ground by a 61 year old. That’s not gonna help your street creds kid.

Of course, there’s got to be a bit of a snarky comment at the end of the story.
Asked about the incident, a police spokesman confirmed that "something like that occurred tonight in Georgetown."

"I can't identify the surviving victim of any crime," he said. "But, I understand the victim has been calling the news media and telling them his story."

Hell, if I ran down a cheap crook less than a third my age, I might want to brag about it a little too.

Where’s Queequeg when you need him?

Is anyone else getting tired of this?

Bid to Save Whales Drags Into 3rd Week

The money and manpower spent in trying to coax these two whales back to the sea…well, I don’t get it. Yeah, they’re injured, probably from a boat propeller, and they have wondered some 70 miles from the ocean up the Sacramento River, but give me a break!

Animals make bad choices all the time and die for their error. Just drive a few miles on any interstate and you’ll see carcasses of critters tat didn’t know enough to avoid a collision with a truck or car. If these two whales (actually, probably just the big stupid cow since the calf will follow its meal ticket) decide to return to the sea, they will. If they don’t return, then we can clean up the corpses. If the authorities are concerned about them interfering with shipping, get a damn harpoon and stop screwing around.

I would like to see and accounting for this “rescue” mission when it’s all said and done. How much is being paid by PETA and HSUS do you think?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Carlos D. is Hot tonight!

Looks like Carlos Delgado is having fun in Miami. In the fifth inning tonight he is 3 for 3 with 2 homers and 5 RBI. Maybe he's emerging from the slump he's been in for nearly two months. (Actually, being on the road for him is good. As a new daddy, it might be the only time he gets a solid night's sleep!)

Another visitor to the Aerie

I've already mentioned the gray squirrels (aka tree rats), red squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and the bear. This evening we had a young buck deer walk into the yard. THAT got Chester's attention. He (Chester) was lying on the carpet looking out the screen door at some Black-capped Chickadee that was brazen enough to come to the feeder on the deck railing. The deer stepped out of the woods and looked in the direction of the house and Chester went on point. Who needs a dog?

I could see the beginning of some antlers nestled between the deer's ears as it cautiously walked through the taller weeds on the edge of the lawn. It stood broadside to the house before meandering back into the woods heading down the slope toward the road. It was just starting to shed its winter coat of dull brown and gray for its red summer wear. It also looked like it had a good deal of fattening up to do but now that the grasses are up and the leaves on the trees are out that won't take long.

Masked Invaders, Germany, 1934

How ‘bout that! America engaged in biological warfare against Germany way back in 1934.

From Nazi Past, a Proliferating Pest
KASSEL, Germany -- In 1934, top Nazi party official Hermann Goering received a seemingly mundane request from the Reich Forestry Service. A fur farm near here was seeking permission to release a batch of exotic bushy-tailed critters into the wild to "enrich the local fauna" and give bored hunters something new to shoot at.

Goering approved the request and unwittingly uncorked an ecological disaster that is still spreading across Europe. The imported North American species, Procyon lotor, or the common raccoon, quickly took a liking to the forests of central Germany. Encountering no natural predators -- and with hunters increasingly called away by World War II -- the woodland creatures fruitfully multiplied and have stymied all attempts to prevent them from overtaking the Continent.

Today, as many as 1 million raccoons are estimated to live in Germany, and their numbers are steadily increasing.
And they are spreading across Europe with their masked eyes upon Asia and maybe even England.

I love the exterminator/trapper’s modesty, too.
Becker owns a firewood dealership and lumberyard in Kassel but has developed a thriving side business in raccoon removal and prevention. He catches as many as 200 a year in his homemade wooden traps.

He loads the inside of the trap with sticky bread or something sweet and fastens it to a tripwire. As soon as the raccoon grabs the bait, the side doors slam shut. The trap doesn't harm the animals, but Becker finishes off the captured ones with a rifle shot to the head.

"No one else does it as professionally as I do," he boasted. "I always succeed, always. Raccoons in Germany don't really have any natural enemies -- except me."
At least the couple I have coming to the Aerie yard (and deck) at night only raid the bird feeders I leave out. And they are kind of cute, but, boy, can they make a racket when they squabble over the food!

Seen first at Ann Althouse’s place

Endangered? How about existent?

We are coming up on the end of May, right? I thought so. But how to explain this story that sounds like an April Fools’ Day gag?

Endangered Species Protection Sought for Bigfoot

Don’t you need proof that the damn thing exists in the first place before you can go about “protecting” it?
The man behind the petition was a Bigfoot enthusiast named Todd Standing, who claims to have definitive proof of Bigfoot but is withholding it until protection for the alleged animals is in place. “When I get species protection for them nationwide, I will make my findings public and I will take this out of the realm of mythology. Bigfoot is real,” Standing said.

Apparently, the Canadian dollar isn’t the only thing Looney north of the border.

But as Benjamin Radford says:
Protecting endangered species is important for biodiversity, but protecting animals that may not even exist is putting the cart before the unicorn. No one has ever injured or killed a creature not known to exist; Bigfoot and lake monsters are no more in need of legal protection than are leprechauns or dragons. If the creatures are eventually discovered, scientists will do all they can to preserve and study the species. Until then, surely lawmakers have more important things to worry about.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Compiled at the evangelical outpost for your viewing pleasure.
Not long after Al Gore invented the internet, his wife Tipper uploaded a picture of the family cat launching one of the most ubiquitous trends in web culture. But over the past year, a strange subgenre called "lolcats" or "cat macros" has developed, turning a meme into a form of folk art.

It is difficult to pick out a favorite. All are real cute and all will make you smile or (if you have a cat of your own) nod your head in recognition. There are links to even more at the bottom of the post.

Be sure you have lots of time. You can’t look at just one.


Move over Hogzilla, you’re just a little shoat to this bruiser.
An 11-year-old Alabama boy used a pistol to kill a wild hog his father says weighed a staggering 1,051 pounds and measured 9-feet-4 from the tip of its snout to the base of its tail. Think hams as big as car tires.
What in heaven’s name is in the water down there that these hogs are drinking?
[Jamison Stone's] said he shot the huge animal eight times with a .50- caliber revolver and chased it for three hours through hilly woods before finishing it off with a point-blank shot.
I wonder if that’s the same .50 caliber ammunition the anti-gun crowd claims can take down a 747 and pierce armor on tanks? Nah, this was a hand bazooka!
Jamison is enjoying the newfound celebrity generated by the hog hunt, but he said he prefers hunting pheasants to monster pigs.

"They are a little less dangerous."

Well, I should think so!

(Nice photo angle by the way. Makes the damn hog look even bigger!)

Record Snows on Pikes Peak

Colorado Springs is nestled at the base of Pikes Peak. The mountain scenery is gorgeous. Two years ago there wasn’t a bit of snow on the Peak on the Fourth of July. This year there will probably be quite a bit.

Climbers get the cold shoulder
This is the snowiest spring on Pikes Peak in more than a decade. Barr Camp recorded 231 inches of snow this winter. (It only saw 50 inches in 2006.)

Hikers venturing above treeline will find that the peak is more wintry this May than it usually is in January, and they should be prepared.

“The snow is still waist-deep in places, and we just got more today,” Taylor, the caretaker at Barr Camp, said Wednesday. Every day, she warns people that the trail is buried.

A couple of Air Force cadets had to be rescued when they couldn’t make the last five miles from Barr Camp to the summit. They started early in the morning expecting to make it long before the last train left at 4:00 PM. They didn’t. They did get down safely, however, with the help of a helicopter rescue team.
Temperatures at the summit have hovered around freezing for days. Snow will likely last into June or July.

“It’s been warm in town, and people think, ‘How much snow can there be?’ There’s a lot,” Taylor said. “And it’s wet, deep snow. You’re going to sink in and get soaked through.”

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

O'Donnell Will Not Be Back on 'The View'

Typical of most bullies, when you stand up to them they just fade away. Of course, that’s not the way O’Donnell phrased it:
And on her Web site Thursday, O'Donnell wrote: "When painting there is a point u must step away from the canvas as the work is done."
Rosie, this wasn’t a commissioned painting job. You had a contract for APPEARANCES. Sure hope ABC isn’t paying her for these last few weeks.

First she took the day off when The View was to discuss the Truthers' claims on 9/11 saying it was her partner, Heidi's birthday, and then she just walks off for good three weeks shy of the date she had announced would be her last. My guess is she got her little feelings hurt when Elisabeth Hasselbeck had the nerve to stand up to her ridiculous, incoherent ranting.

Supply and Demand

Those are the two things that should determine the price of a commodity. If you reduce the supply, then, by golly, the price of what is available will, and should, go up. That is the way the system works.

I hate paying over $3 for a gallon of regular, but I also know that the taxes included in that amount to nearly a quarter of the price and that there plenty of steps between the ground and my tank and that, reports of "record profits" aside, ain't a whole lot of "price gouging" going on. In fact, the taxes collected by the feds and states are the biggest chunk of money going to the entities that have been doing absolutely nothing to see that that gasoline gets to the pump. That might be considered gouging.

House panel votes to extend ban on most offshore drilling

Remind me again. When was the last oil refinery built in California...or New York…or Massachusetts? Before we go looking for price gougers, perhaps we should look at the supply side of the equation.

UPDATE: Jeez this internet thingy has all the answers. Do a little surfing and they just pop out at you.

Behind high gas prices: The refinery crunch
So why hasn't a new refinery been built in the U.S. since 1976?
So there’s my answer. No refinery’s been built, not just in those three states, but anywhere in the country, since 1976. But there has been an increase in refinery capacity.
While refinery capacity may not be growing as fast as demand, it is growing.

For example, Drevna noted that expansion projects at the nation's existing refineries have had the effect of adding the equivalent of a brand new refinery every year. That increase came despite mandates for cleaner gasoline and diesel fuel, which take longer to make.

But what about new, cleaner refineries here in the states?
First off, experts note, gasoline, like any commodity, is subject to big price swings. After all, in the late 1990s it was selling for less than $1 a gallon, hardly an encouraging number if you're a refinery exec looking at making a decades-long, multi-billion dollar investment.

While retail gasoline prices are currently near record highs at just below $3 a gallon, where they might be five years from now is a matter of debate.

Some experts say new investment, in both alternative energy and conventional sources, will boost supply and could cut prices in half. If a global recession hit, the drop could be even more dramatic.

Others say rampant demand, especially in the developing world, will keep prices from going anywhere but up. For an oil executive trying to decide on a refinery investment, picking who's right is a tough call.

Secondly, stringent environmental laws and effective community organizing have made it very difficult to build a new refinery in the U.S.

"Everyone is quick to say "look at these refiners, they're driving up the price,'" said Phil Flynn Flynn, senior market analyst at Alaron Trading in Chicago. "But if I wanted to build a refinery tomorrow, I couldn't do it."

And then there's the public's newfound concern over global warming and its supposed commitment to do something about it. President Bush himself has called for a 20 percent reduction in gasoline use over the next 10 years.

"What refining executive in their right fiscal mind would say, gee, we need to add refining capacity right now," said Drevna at the refiners' association.
So demand elsewhere in the world where the governments may e more amenable to construction have siphoned off refineries. Then there’s the NIMBY crowd that would dearly like lower prices at the pump but not at the cost of either oil exploration or refinery construction within our own borders. And finally, there are governmental policies at the state and federal level geared toward the reduced consumption of gasoline in the near future.

Succession = Diversity

When Lava Flows And Glaciers Recede, Predicting How Species Take Over
Whenever an event such as a fire, clear cut, or lava flow creates an empty habitat, species arrive, interact, and assemble to form a new ecological community--a process known as "succession." How quickly does succession proceed" Most ecologists might expect change to be rapid at first and then decline as the community ages, but there was no systematic analysis of this idea until recently.

It’s only a “disaster” if you want it to be. Otherwise, it’s a natural process that is clearly poorly understood in some ways. Change (succession) is natural and necessary for diversity. It does end in mature ecosystems that are devoid of the diversity succession experiences. Luckily there are man-made and natural events that can bring things full cycle back to the beginning (or nearly so).
Anderson's study provides a framework to understand why communities mature at different rates. According to the author, "Understanding how quickly new ecological communities develop is fundamental to numerous ecological questions ranging from, 'How often should fires or clear cuts be allowed on landscapes?" to 'What determines how many species are found on an island?" yet we were unable to make many generalizations about succession rate. That is what motivated this study."

The “forever wild” clause in the creation of the Adirondack Park and various national parks has created an environment in which little change takes place and, therefore, reduced the diversity of the forested park lands owned by the state of New York and the United States. Succession has seen to it that the forest will grow to large trees that mature, die and rot where they stand or fall. The gap created by the fallen giant may make for a temporary tiny hole in the forest that undergoes some form of succession, but it’s not much on the grand scale of things. Thank goodness for the few large timber companies still operating within the Blue Line, the occasional wildfire, and the beaver, nature’s little diversity machine (chop it, dam it, flood it, abandon it once it fills in).

If you want examples, go look at the explosion of life in the forests of Yellowstone that burned in the late 80s, or at the burgeoning growth on the flanks of Mount St. Helens, or at the Hawaiian Islands once formed (and still forming) from molten rock.

When we see film of forest fires or volcanic lava and ash burying a forest, we mourn the loss of all those stately trees. We forget that in a few years time, the land will sprout anew with different species of plants and animals often far more diverse than the monoculture forest that was lost. It all takes time. And patience. Something that we humans seem to have in short supply.

Another 6- to 7-foot alligator makes the news.

This one’s in the Tampa, Florida area. Gator Visits Suburb

At least gators are more indigenous to the Florida environs. But..there’s always a “but”…
Neighbor Jennifer McCormick said she has seen about six baby gators in a nearby pond.

"Some people feed them," she said. "That's what I worry about. I have small children."

Wildlife experts advise against feeding alligators because they will associate food with people and perhaps harm someone.
Yeah, feeding a critter that can eat your toddler isn’t the smartest move in the book. A nice wallet, maybe a handbag, and some gator steaks for grilling, now that’s the ticket!
Rick Skinner, onto whose property the gator crept, said it was the second one he had seen in his yard in five years. Homes on the street were built between at least two ponds.

"The other one was about a 5-footer," Skinner said. "It was in the middle of the night. We just left it alone, and it took care of itself.

"I would be of the mind to leave this one alone, too. If they trap it, they'll kill it, and what's the point of that? It's not hurting anybody."
Rick, my man, it’s the quiet ones you have to look out for. Why do you think Captain Hook fed the clock to the croc?

They got ‘em!

Reggie The Alligator Believed Captured

Reggie, the 6 ½ foot alligator that has been swimming in a LA park lake for the last two years, has finally been captured. But not before it became a celebrity. (This is LA we’re talking about. I mean, sheesh, everybody can become a celebrity in LA.)
The gator inspired a zydeco song, two children's books and innumerable T-shirts. Students at Los Angeles Harbor College next to the lake adopted Reggie as a second mascot and the story of Los Angeles' mysterious urban alligator went worldwide.

I have just one question: People being what they are and this being LA, how long before Reggie II shows up?

Okay, a second question: Why "Believed Captured"? I mean you got a 6 1/2 foot long alligator wrestled to a standstill, strapped to a board and taken to the reptile specialists at the zoo, who, I assume, know an alligator when they see one. So why is it only "believed captured"? If I don't believe, will it still be swimming in the park lake? Or is there a possibility that there is more than one 6 1/2 foot long gators swimming around in the 50 acre lake?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How did you earn your desk?

I have no idea if this story is true or not, but it is one hell of a story.
Jeff O'Bryant: A good story, an important lesson

Imagine, if you will, that you are back in high school and, on the first day of school, you walk into your social studies class and find that there are no desks. The teacher tells you and your classmates that, until you can answer her question, the classroom will remain empty of desks. By the last period of the day the whole school is abuzz, news crews have arrived to report on the story, and still nobody has figured out the answer to the teacher’s question which was “How do the students earn their desks?”

Go on over to the article from The Catoosa County News

We could use a few more Social Studies teachers like that.

Cute little monk seals vs. Evil sharks

Time to save an endangered species by..well…killing another species.

NOAA eyes shark kill to rescue monk seals
Culling particularly aggressive Galapagos sharks is just "one piece of a multifaceted program" that includes captive care to help underweight female pups, researching the diet and foraging habits of seals, and other measures, Mike Tosatto, deputy administrator of the NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office, said yesterday.

Last year, the state board approved killing up to 10 predatory Galapagos sharks with a rifle, said Dan Polhemus, DLNR aquatic resources administrator. But after a whole summer, there were no kills.

Between 2000 and 2005, scientists killed 12 Galapagos sharks that had been preying on young seals, fishing for the sharks from small boats with pole and line.

This year, the scientists propose fishing for the sharks with 100-foot-long lines left overnight in areas where the sharks have been seen.

I guess nobody likes sharks. It’s those dead eyes they have. And the fact that some of them can bite you in half before they realize you’re not the food they thought you were. But here it’s a case of predator and prey. Natural selection. So why can’t man keep his nose out of the interspecies interaction? Helloooo! We ARE NOT God! Not in this case and not in any other.

(I know, it’s just 10 sharks their talking about. Unless they’re in a tank, those sharks will be replaced by the surrounding population. And it will have to be done over and over and over.)

Florida declares war…

…on Gambian pouched rats. HUGE rats. They can grow to 9 pounds. My cat, Shadow, is only about 9 pounds. Her brother is up to 13 pounds. I can’t imagine a farookin RAT that big! Luckily the colony is small and centrally located in the Keys. If the poison doesn’t work, they ought to napalm the place. But if they want to give me a spotlight, a .22 rifle, and a dollar per tail….
Florida tries to wipe out cat-sized African rats

Morning Visitor

Well, we've finally got a black bear at the Aerie. Or I should saw, we have finally seen a black bear at the Aerie.

There have been some sounds in the night, including the crunch of bones (?) that have been attributed to raccoons. But it's possible that the raccoons were responding to some other presence. We've only seen the raccoons (usually two) and nothing larger.

This morning, while I prepped the coffee maker at 7:00 AM, a yearling black bear which I guess would weigh between 175 and 200 pounds (a BIG yearling) wandered into the yard from the woods. We had just set out the bird feeders (I got tired of refilling them every morning after the raccoons ad picked them clean) and putting the trays back on the deck rail (raccoons had knocked them down). There was a bit of onion and stale lettuce that the raccoons had passed up from last nights hamburgers.

I watched for a moment and then called to Terry to look out her window in the sewing room. Unfortunately, that window was open and the bear heard her call back to me. It stopped, whirled about and loped back into the woods long before I could get to the camera and take a picture.

Next time it's camera first.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Global Warming?

Somebody might want to tell South Africa about this Global Warming thing.

Weather breaks record
The South African Weather Service said 34 new records were set on Monday and another 20 yesterday. Almost all records were for the lowest maximum and minimum daily temperatures in towns across the country.
And it’s not WINTER there yet!
There was snow on all high-lying areas of the Eastern Cape, and on some of the low-lying areas, said Weather SA's regional manager for the province, Hugh van Niekerk.

Meanwhile, out near Denver, Summer has been delayed.

Snow kidding! Weather wacky
Light snow has been falling along Interstate 70 on both sides of the Eisenhower Tunnel and along some mountain passes, with 3 to 7 inches expected in some of the higher elevations.

The National Weather Service says rain or thundershowers are likely through this evening with snowshowers expected by midnight in the Castle Rock area. Temperatures are expected to drop into the high 30s tonight in the metro area.
The southwestern mountains of Colorado are under a snow advisory, with up to 8 inches of accumulation possible. A freeze watch is in effect for tonight in the San Luis Valley region and much of southeastern Colorado is under a flash flood watch.

From the Drudge Report

Welcome back!

I’ve got a new read to add to the Side Bar
Rachel Lucas has returned to blogging. I read some of her work as the Blue-eyed Infidel before she quit for awhile. That was just as I started to get into this medium. I’m glad she’s sharing again.

Read this! Now!

Bill Whittle is a freakin’ genius. What he writes should be incorporated into high school curricula and taught to each and every student in the land. You should read—no—you must read this, his latest, two part essay.


And then go read all of his stuff if you haven’t read any of it yet, or even if you have read it once—or twice.
Bill Whittle’s other stuff can be found here: Eject! Eject! Eject!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Adirondack Air Force (AAF) has deployed

Black flies are at their worst during late spring and early summer. They swarm in large numbers and look to penetrate your clothing to take chinks out of your skin. They will climb up your leg to the area just above your sock and leave a nice ring of red dots that itch like the blazes. Or they will attack your neck just above your collar and do the same. Failing that, they might get inside your shirt between the buttons, or fly in your eyes, ears or nose. If you breathe through your mouth, be prepared to swallow a few. Keep your pant legs tucked into your socks/boots, your shirttail in your pants, your sleeves inside your work gloves, and a hat/bandana down over your ears and the nape of your neck if you want to avoid most of the bites. There’s a reason the old timers used to where their long johns right through June! Once we have a week or two of temperatures in the mid-70s or low 80s they are about done. Unfortunately, that’s when the deer flies appear.

Deer flies are larger than the black flies but not so numerous. They can arrive silently upon your hand (usually your knuckles) and take a chop that would do a Rottweiller proud. They are fairly territorial, however, and sit in the shrubbery along the side of the trail waiting for a large mammal to pass. Then they will swoop out and buzz around your head (and hands) looking for a point of attack. If you stand still, you’re lunch. If you keep on walking, they may drop back to their favorite perch and leave you alone—or, at least, leave you to the next deer fly along the trail. The good thing about deer flies is that they make a large target for your swatting hand. The bad thing is that, once you’ve managed to swat one, you really, really need to stomp on that sucker. If you don’t, it’ll be back to get you. They were the original models for the Terminator. The deer flies at the Bolt Hole seem to disappear around the middle of August. (More on why they disappear later.)

Mosquitoes rise out of the grass, little tiny pools of water in hollows of trees, puddles, streams, lakes, buckets and old tires just as soon as the water melts. They are surgical in their attack. While the black flies and deer flies seemingly want you to know your being attacked, the mosquito slides that proboscis into your skin with a delicate touch that will leave you wondering (but only for a moment) when you got bit and by whom. You can hear the mosquito as it tries to select a vein to tap. The high-pitched buzz of the wings may make it seem to be right in your ear. This may also give you a false sense of being able to swat them out of the air; after all, they seem to be moving so, so slowly. Unfortunately, like fruit flies, mosquitoes have access to warp technology that allows them to slip between realities. When you swat at them, they merely slip between the folds of time and space to emerge where your hand or swatter isn’t. Luckily, mosquitoes are only a threat in the twilight hours. They are seldom, if ever, out and about during the day. Which is good because you’re already busy with the black flies and deer flies! I have found that they also tend to disappear several hours after sunset. Perhaps because the temperatures in and about the Bolt Hole drop quite rapidly once the sun goes down. Or maybe it’s the bats.

No-see-ums are a scourge. I’ve no idea what humans did to deserve these tiny little beasties, but I will gladly join with you to scream at the heavens, “Enough, all ready!” As the name suggests these are really, really tiny flies with really, really sharp biting parts. Usually the first indication that they are about is a bite that feels like a student nurse practicing her acupuncture techniques with a dull needle upon your arm or (should you be so foolish as to be wearing shorts in the Adirondacks) leg. They are so small they can easily pass through the screen on your window or tent, so there is no place you can go to escape them. They are so small that their flight is totally silent, so there is no warning of the impending attack. They are so small that, unlike black flies or mosquitoes and certainly deer flies, they do not disturb the fine hairs on you skin as they land. Thus, their bite seems even far more painful for being inflicted without warning—often while you are in bed inside your home/tent. They only attack at night and are usually drawn to the lights in your room or tent. If you have a campfire or gas lantern, the CO2 given off by these sources will distract them.

What defenses can we mere humans have against these bloodsuckers? There are several.

We could try avoidance. Move as far away from water as possible. This would get us away from the mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums, all of which need moisture (as well as your blood) to lay eggs for future generations. Unfortunately, there is nowhere in the Adirondacks that is more than a short distance from any water.

We can encourage the natural predators of these pests. Bats eat mosquitoes like baseball players eat sunflower seeds. Each individual bat will eat thousands of mosquitoes each night. So cheer them on when you see them swooping and diving in the twilight and remember they will continue to gorge on mosquitoes all night long. Frogs, toads and some tadpoles eat mosquitoes and mosquito larvae. Dragonfly larvae will also eat mosquito larvae. Adult dragonflies eat deer flies and black flies on the wing. Near the end of June I start to see one or two swooping over the lawn. By August, I have a dozen or more that show up when I start the lawn mower to dart and dive at the insects that I stir up or that come to feed on me. They seem to favor the larger deer flies and you can see them eating on the wing as they carry one about in the cage made from their six legs. On the avian side of the ledger we have the flycatchers and kingbirds, the Eastern Phoebe, Chimney Swifts, and swallows. I have several Least Flycatchers in the area around the house and currently have an Eastern Phoebe building a nest over one of the windows. I’ve often seen Tree Swallows resting on the wires that run along the road. And Chimney Swifts appear from who knows where to join the bats in the evening.

Then there is the chemical/biological approach. Foggers might be justified if you don’t intend to go anywhere, but they are indiscriminant and will kill many a “good” bug as well as the bad. Besides, they really don’t reach very far into the woods and the “bad” guys will just reoccupy the emptied areas in a day or two. Tikki torches and citronella candles have a similarly small range and are practically worthless if there is any kind of breeze blowing. A substance called Screen Proof can be sprayed on your screens to keep no-see-ums out. Actually, it turns your screens into flypaper and traps the little buggers as they try to get through. Unfortunately, it also traps dust and this clogs your screeds over time. If you have a private pond or pool near your home, there are mosquito control cakes you can purchase that release a predatory nematode that feeds on mosquito larvae. But it is a big world out there and there are numerous sites that mosquitoes use to breed from beaver ponds, to little puddles in the mud made by loggers or ATV enthusiasts, to hollows in plants and trees that collect water for just a week or two. You won’t get them all.

DEET is the most effective deterrent. Sprayed on your clothes and a hat, scarf, or bandana it can keep the bugs from biting. They will still swarm around you and create an annoyance but they won’t land to bite. Any insect repellant that contains DEET (the higher the percentage, the better) is worth its weight in gold.

Or you can accept the inevitable.

When I was younger, I was very allergic to stinging and biting insects. So allergic was I that as a toddler, I nearly died from my second bee sting. As a teen I was again stung and almost died. That was when I began my series of desensitization shots. It took several years of getting stuck by a doctor’s needle before I was no longer allergic to bee stings. I’ve been stung since with no ill effects. The first time, I stepped in a yellow jackets nest while in the woods and got stung 10-20 times. I walked out of the woods to find a state trooper’s car next to mine. I explained my situation (this was the first time I was stung since I ended the shots, yadda, yadda, yadda) and we sat and talked for a half hour waiting for a reaction. Didn’t happen. As a result, I went to get shots for biting insects. (I used to blow up like a balloon if bitten by a mosquito or deer fly.) I got six different series of shots over four years, and today I barely notice the mosquito bite or even the deer fly bite. Oh, they still hurt immediately after the bite but there is little itching or swelling associated with the bite. The same goes for the no-see-um. But the blankety-blank black fly! The doctor must not have had a serum for that one. When they bite me, it will be a week before the itching and swelling fade away. By then I may have scratched down to the bone! Funny thing is, this only happens in May. By the time June has rolled around, the black fly bite has much less effect upon me. Whether that’s because I have build up an immunity or the black flies are growing weaker or whatever the reason, I am thankful that I can get through the last few weeks of their abundance with out looking like someone went wild with a red Sharpie and left little red spots all over my arms and legs. All I have to worry about is the occasional fly in the ear or nose and the extra protein in my diet as I walk behind the lawnmower.

The AAF does have its good side, however. Whenever someone wants to move up here, they need to consider two things: the snow and cold of winter and the Adirondack Air Force in the summer. Surprising how many flatlanders decide they’d rather live elsewhere.

Four days at the Bolt Hole

Saturday, around noon after birding at Hills Creek State Park in PA, I packed the truck and headed up to the Bolt Hole in the Adirondacks.

The Bolt Hole is 34 acres about 25 miles north of Utica, NY, and just inside the Blue Line of the Adirondack Park. It is at the end of a paved road and the power line. The last three miles was dirt until about five years ago, but the pavement now stops right at the gate to the Bolt Hole. There are four hunters’ camps a little further up the dirt portion of the road that remains. To the north and east of my property there are approximately 10,000 acres of state land that is held as “forever wild” as per the AP mandate. The Bolt Hole is nowhere near the more visited portions of the park and is, therefore pretty damned remote and quiet—which suits me fine.

The trip took me a little over four hours with a stop at the “local” Stewarts (14 miles away) for some groceries. It started to drizzle a little as I traveled those last 14 miles. I had just unpacked my things when Mark, my buddy who owns a small camp across the street, came out of the woods where he had been checking two game cameras he has set behind my place. We looked at the pictures the cameras had taken during the last few days and saw a few deer (one or two doe and yearlings as well as at least one buck sporting the beginnings of antlers) and lots of red squirrels. Mark was heading back to his apartment and I built up the fire in the wood stove and settled back to watch the completion of the Mets-Yankees game on Fox.

Sunday was a beautiful day and, as soon as the sun and breeze dried out the grass, I spent three hours or so walking behind the new lawnmower. There were a few black flies about but the liberal use of Deep Woods Off and the strong breeze meant that I only got attacked when I was in the lee of a building or shed. The temperatures were such that I only raised a light sweat while pushing the mower about. However, the combination of walking several miles back and forth on the uneven surface as I cut grass, two birding expeditions (Thursday and Saturday), hauling sheetrock into the basement of the Aerie with Rick’s help (Thursday afternoon) and digging post holes and hauling concrete at the Muck (Wednesday) had done my back no favors. While most of the birders on Thursday and Saturday had “warbler neck” I found the pressure of leaning back to look in the treetops affected my lumbar region more. It was time for a good lie down and an ice pack. I finished one Terry Prachett book (Feet of Clay) and began another (Maskerade) while flat on the couch atop the ice pack.

Monday morning dawned way too early (something it seems to do at the Bolt Hole from May through August as the sun rises north of the hill to the east-southeast of the cabin) but I fought off the urge to rise with it and rolled over and went back to sleep several times despite the bird calls and chittering of red squirrels telling me to get up. I did, eventually, get up and get dressed around 8:30 AM. After a cup of coffee I decided to take a walk through the woods along some of the logging trails to see what was about.

I put on my jacket and a hat—forgetting the Deep Woods Off—and stepped outside. It was sunny but quite cool with the temperature just above 40. That didn’t seem to bother the black flies any as they swarmed about me whenever the breeze died. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much breeze along those logging trails as the surrounding shrubs or forest protected them. After an hour of ineffectively swatting at the flies as they propped my ears and eyes, I beat a hasty retreat to the house.

Clearly, the Adirondack Air Force has begun its summer season. For those of you not familiar with the AAF, it consists of the aforementioned black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies and no-see-ums.

Here’s a brief list of the birds I saw when I wasn’t swatting at black flies:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (2)
Chipping Sparrow (7)
Gray Catbird (2)
American Robin (6)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (5)
Eastern Phoebe (2)
Black-capped Chickadee (5)
Least Fly Catcher (4)
Wood Thrush (1)
Ruffed Grouse (1)
Hooded Warbler (1)
Woodcock (1)
Magnolia Warbler (3)
Northern Flicker (1)
Common Raven (1)
Black flies (103,482,938)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hills Creek Bird Walk

The Tiadaghton Audubon Society has been providing volunteers to lead bird walks at Hills Creek State Park every Saturday morning. A few months ago they asked for volunteers and I raised my hand. Today was to be my day. Gary, another Tiadaghton member and leader of our midweek walks, happens to live very near the park and has been doing most of the walks. He showed up today and I let him take over. There were three people who joined Gary, Terry, me and the Park Naturalist on our walk along the east shore of Hills Creek Lake. Gary kept the official list of what we saw but here is my compliation.

Saturday, May 19, 2007
7:30-10:00 AM

Mallards (4)
American Crow (3)
Northern Cardinal (2)
Chipping Sparrow (2)
Grey Catbird (1)
Song Sparrow (3)
Mourning Dove (1)
Baltimore Oriole (1)
European Starling (6)
Common Grackle (2)
Canada Goose (30)
Spotted Sandpiper (3)
Rough-winged Swallow (4)
Eastern Phoebe (1)
Great Blue Heron (2)
American Robin (3)
Ovenbird (2)
Black-billed Cuckoo (1)
Dark-eyed Junco (3)
Red-eyed Vireo (1)
Blue Jay (1)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)
Tree Swallow (6)
Lesser Scaup (1)
Broad-winged Hawk (1)
Barred Owl (1)
Wood Duck (1)

Gary went back with his digiscoping equipment later in the morning to get a great picture of the Barred Owl.

Prodigal Returns—for a brief visit

Wednesday evening, Terry and I were doing our usual after dinner—she was in her sewing room trying to work with one or two cats trying to prevent her from doing any needle work and I was in the living room surfing the internet—when the doorbell chimed.

When I opened the door, there stood our son. Now this may not sound too unusual but as far as we knew he was on the west coast working for a tree company for the summer after having graduated from U of Idaho. He had called his mother on Sunday (he’s a relatively good boy) from the Grand Tetons of Wyoming as he began a hike with a friend of his. But he never said anything about where he was headed—the sneaky so and so!

Without telling us, he decided that he would spend this summer working in the parks of Baltimore, just as he had done last year. He liquidated all his holdings in Idaho and headed east. He has just one more day of Marine Corps Reserve duty to carry out and he will become inactive. This fall he plans on going to Guyana in South America to teach for a year. Then….? Who knows? To qualify for the teaching post (for which he has to pony up some cash for room and board) he has to have 25 hours of teaching. He figures he can get that by working with the kids in the parks.

By Friday afternoon he was on his way again, back to Baltimore. Guess Terry and I will have to haul our butts down to the Inner Harbor to pay him a visit.

Birding on the PA Grand Canyon

On Thursday, May 17, 2007, Terry and I joined a hardy group from the Tiadaghton Audubon Society to go birding at Colton Point on the West rim of the Grand Canyon of PA. The Grand Canyon is located about 10 miles west-southwest of Wellsboro in Tioga County.

It was a very chilly (40 degree) morning but also very clear. We walked the loop at the end of the road in the park and along the rim of the canyon. There were many, many warblers flitting about in the trees and we all came away with “warbler neck” from looking up into the treetops. An abundance of Blackburinian Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, and Hooded Warblers seemed to have made the forest their resting place for the night and they were feeding in preparation for continuing their flight northward. There were so many birds that I failed to actually record how many of each species we saw. In any event, here is the list of those species I did see or hear.

Dark-eyed Junco
Wood Thrush
Eastern Phoebe
Hermit Thrush
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Red-bellied Sapsucker
Turkey Vulture
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruffed Grouse
Pileated Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Black and White Warbler
Blue-headed Vireo
Blackburnian Warbler
Blue Jay
Hooded Warbler
Common Raven

There were others that people in our group saw but I don’t include them here since I didn’t see them or recognize the songs.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A rose by any other name

I’ve been reading as much as I can about the proposed immigration bill and trying to figure out just what all it includes. So far all I can say is I’m confused.

Illegal aliens will have to return home—maybe—and/or pay a fine to get on track for citizenship. But they can apply for something called a Z-visa and stay here and avoid a fine. Or they can just forget about applying for anything and continue to hide under the radar which may—or may not—be strengthened.

No where does this bill seem to say the border security will be tightened or that enforcement of existing laws will be improved.

I’ve seen quotes from lots of politicians saying this is not an amnesty. But if there is no push to punish law breakers (and I don’t count the wink and a nod pay a little fine portion of this bill to be just punishment) then this is an amnesty. And as we have seen from past amnesties, no good can come from it.

I sincerely hope our elected officials get to read the damn thing before they are asked to vote on it and that, after wading through the 800, 900, 1000, or whatever pages they come to their senses and vote this abomination down.

If they don't, I hope they have a good idea as to what they want to do in retirement. All they have to do is look at the attitude of the folks in Hazelton, PA. The legal citizens elected their representatives to look out for the well being of the legal citizen of the USA, not to make things easier or "more humane" for some illegal alien whose first act upon coming to this country was to break the law.

Agreement Reached on Immigration Reform

Bush Hails Deal on Immigration Reform

The J. Wellington Wimpy immigration plan: Amnesty now, enforcement later by Michelle Malkin

DOA? John Hindraker offers up some hope at Powerline.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Terry and I were standing on the deck this afternoon after the rains had passed just looking at the sparse, new growth of grass that has sprung up through the scattered hay when we were buzzed by a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. (Here and here.) As we watched, they went down the side of the house checking every knot in the logs as though they thought the round-shaped object might, just might, offer up some nectar like a respectable flower. Seeing this, I knew it was time to put out the hummingbird feeder.

I know that just two birds won't impress any of our friends who have seen the traffic jam at Joyce's feeders (she has at least 48 stations and there is still a waiting line!), but I will settle for a pair now and maybe two or three more during the summer.

(See these pictures from back in ’05 to get an idea of the hub-bub that goes on on Joyce’s deck.)

Carbon Debits

Man! I wish I had thought of this. Between the trees at the Bolt Hole and those here at the Aerie, I could have picked up some serious cash. (Of course, I don’t have to cut them down so as to NOT scare any antelope as these guys claim. Mine would have been pure Carbon Debit.
Your Carbon Credit Reduction Source
Reducing the threat of Carbon Credits one Debit (and one Tree) at a time.

Click on this link to see them at work: How We Make a Carbon Debit

Working at The Muck

We did some hard work out at the Muck yesterday for the Tiadaghton Audubon Society. A small group of volunteers dug some holes and erected some posts for interpretive signs to go along the short boardwalk to the blind. There were just six holes that had to be dug along the edge of the trail (comprised of fill material so it rose above the marsh) and there were there were four guys and Terry present. The guys (Gary, Bob, Phil and I) dug the holes while Terry helped hold things and also laid out the lunch. The holes had to go down three feet into the ground at which depth every one had some water seeping in. Luckily, the Game Commission folks had removed part of a beaver dam so the water level as down at least a foot from where it was two weeks ago.

We used iron bars to loosen the rock and dry soil near the top and then clam-shell post hole diggers to lift the loose material out. Once the holes were, metal fence posts were pounded into the loose muck at the bottom, 3x3 aluminum posts were cut to length (the signs must be readable by a person in a wheelchair) and an 80 lb. bag of concrete was poured into the hole, and the holes were backfilled with some of the stone and soil we had dug out. The concrete went in dry but absorbed plenty of water from the bottom of the holes and the surrounding soils. In a day or two, Bob, who lives closest and has the signs in the back of his car, will be able to bolt the signs to the posts and the job will be complete.

For my efforts, I had some sore muscles and a bit of sun burn just behind my ears and at the back of my neck—right where a baseball cap will not cover. Feels good though considering how my back felt two weeks ago.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Riiight! Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

Distant planet gets its weather mapped

Ooooh-kay. Soooo, they can’t get the five-day forecast for north-central PA correct but they can do the weather on a planet 63 light-years away?

Just FedEx him to Hoboken

Wait a minute!

Didn’t I see this one in a Bugs Bunny cartoon?

Disoriented penguin reaches Peru's shore

(And it does deserve the "birding" tag. Penguins are birds, ya know.)

Hey! Turn up the thermostat!

A cold front swept southward late yesterday bringing some light rain and much colder temperatures. Last week overnight lows hovered around 50 degrees. This morning, in the shade of the mountain and despite an outdoor thermometer reading of 35 degrees, some of yesterday’s rain remained on the deck in the form of sheet ice.

I could use a bit more “global warming” right about now. But something tells me this report needs to be held on to for a few years, you know, just like all those made back in the early 1970s that forecast the coming ice age (*snigger*).
Sizzling summers in the forecast

Supposed to get down around 30 degrees tonight. Cover up those plants.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bandits win

The masked marauders were here again last night and emptied the feeders. Worse, when I came down stairs to see if I could chase them away I made the mistake of opening the sliding door and Julie scooted out past me. Luckily she headed one way while the raccoons (two of them) took to the woods. I had to go out and chase Julie down and I had come straight from bed where I was wearing what I was born in. No time for shoes or anything, Julie was determined to take some night air and I was as determined that she get back in the house before she caught scent of a rabbit, or 'coon, or some other nightly creature.

I succeeded only to find that the entire episode seemed to have amused Terry no end. She said she knew May was to have two full moons (the 2nd and the 31st)which is okay, but she thought three was excessive.

May 10 Bird List

Gary stuck it out between the raindrops on Thursday and put together a very impressive list. When I left we had only about a dozen of these birds and I would have loved to have seen some of the others on the list but I get nervous when my truck doesn't behave properly and would like to get it where I can baby it a little.

From Gary:

Despite an early rain storm and car trouble ruining the best part of the
morning, Rich and I still managed to compile a pretty decent list of 41
birds. Sorry many of you could not make it.

Canada Goose 4 Wood Duck 3
Mallard 1 Green Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 4 Osprey 2
Bald Eagle 2 Killdeer 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1 Mourning Dove 4
Northern Flicker 1 Least Flycatcher 1
Warbling Vireo 5 American Crow 2
Tree Swallow 5 Bank Swallow 10
Cliff Swallow 35 Barn Swallow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 2 Eastern Bluebird 1
Wood Thrush 1 American Robin 7
Gray Catbird 5 Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 3 Cedar Waxwing 1
Yellow Warbler 12 Chestnut-sided Warbler 5
American Redstart 2 Ovenbird 1
Common Yellowthroat 5 Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 1 Song Sparrow 12
Swamp Sparrow 2 Northern Cardinal 3
Red-winged Blackbird 14 Common Grackle 5
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 Baltimore Oriole 4
American Goldfinch 7

Saturday Morning On My Own

I went birding this morning on my own. The Tiadaghton Audubon Society was doing its annual one day bird count and wanted everyone to go to different places. Then we would all meet for a picnic lunch at Hills Creek State Park.
Terry had a class to teach for her Embroidery Guild of America group that meets over in Wellsboro. She put together a beading project for them and was pleased that 1) all that showed up knew what a bead was and 2) only a half dozen people were there. The small numbers meant she could provide everyone with some personal tutoring.

When I say I went birding I don’t necessarily mean that I went very far. I spent one hour (6:30 AM to 7:30 AM) having a couple of cups of coffee on the deck of the Aerie. Later I went over to the Lambs Creek Recreational Area just north of Mansfield on the Tioga River ad spent another hour and a half there. Here are the lists I submitted:
Location: The Aerie
Observation date: 5/12/07; Time: 6:30 AM - 7:30 AM
Notes: Cool 50 deg; clear; Elevation 2100 feet
Number of species: 21

Mourning Dove 7
Downy Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 6
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 6
Tufted Titmouse 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 5
Magnolia Warbler 1
Scarlet Tanager 1
Eastern Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Northern Cardinal 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 6
Indigo Bunting 3
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Purple Finch 4
American Goldfinch 25

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2 (
Location: Lambs Crk Rec Area
Observation date: 5/12/07 Time: 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM
Notes: Overcast, threat of showers, cool 50-55 degrees; Elevation:1100 feet
Number of species: 21

Canada Goose 2
Wood Duck 3
Wild Turkey 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Mourning Dove 4
Belted Kingfisher 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 3
Tree Swallow 5
Black-capped Chickadee 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
American Robin 6
Gray Catbird 2
Yellow Warbler 3
American Redstart 1
Common Yellowthroat 4
Eastern Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Red-winged Blackbird 2

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2 (

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Night time bandit visits the Aerie

I mentioned seeing red squirrels, gray squirrels and chipmunks in the back yard and on the deck. Last night (Wednesday) we had our first official visit by at least one raccoon. He came up on the deck and emptied the two tray feeders, knocking on onto the deck, and also knocked the stick feeder to the ground. He also took the plastic hanging bird feeder off the pole across the yard and emptied it. All these feeders contained sunflower seeds that are high in oil. I watched him trying to get the seeds out from under the tray he knocked onto the deck when I checked out the noise last night and then saw he had succeeded in turning it over when I came down this morning.

Actually, this may have been his second visit. Terry mentioned that the plastic hanging feeder was on the ground on Wednesday morning.

Tonight was his third. Shadow got very excited about something out on the deck shortly after dark. When I flicked on the outside lights, there he was again, ambling along like he was visiting the boardwalk on a July Sunday afternoon. Al least he hasn’t raided the food left in the feeder tonight—yet. If this becomes a habit, I’ll have to pull the feeders in at night and put them out again in the morning. I won’t like that and the birds who have gotten used to their daybreak meal won’t like it either.

Weekly Bird walk postponed by rain but...

Today was supposed to be the weekly Tiadaghton Audubon society bird walk. But only Gary and I showed up at Ives Run. And then the thunderstorms came. We sat in my truck for a while hoping things would clear, but the only thing that happened was I ran the truck battery down to where the dang thing wouldn’t start. Neither of us had jumper cables but, luckily, Gary doesn’t live too far away. He went to retrieve his set of cables and I sat in the rain.

When Gary returned, the rain had let up but not ended. We got my truck started and I headed home but Gary was going to wait it out some more. I hope he got some birding in ‘cause the rain showers have been sweeping through the Aerie every half hour/forty-five minutes. There’s a pretty good thunder-boomer going on right now just to the north of me.

Anyway, in the short time I was at Ives Run I did get to see:
Mourning Doves
Cliff Swallows (under the bridge)
Tree Swallows
Cedar Waxwings
Yellow Warbler
American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird
Black-capped Chickadee
American Crow
We also heard a Northern Oriole, a Killdeer and, possibly, a Catbird.

When I got back to the Aerie I made a startling discovery: my front door was open and Julie was outside. As soon as she saw the truck pull in, however, she scooted back inside and ran into the basement so she could pretend that I didn’t really see her in the driveway. (Chester and Shadow were still inside and, since there are seldom any birds or squirrels to be seen by the front door, quite happy to remain inside.) My guess is that the front door hadn’t been shut properly and a gust of wind had blown it open. Julie, being the oldest, and having some experience outside on a leash, took advantage of the opportunity but the two younger cats felt safer inside watching wildlife from behind the glass panels.

Anyway, I resumed by bird watching from the comfort of the deck and came up with the following list:

At the Aerie

Goldfinches (LOTS of Goldfinches!)
Blue Jays
Indigo Buntings (3 males at least)
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (3 males several females)
Dark-eyed Junco
Chipping sparrows
Mourning Doves
Red-breasted nuthatch
Common Grackles
Brown-headed cowbird
Tufted Titmouse
Purple Finches
Red-winged Blackbirds
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
Turkey Vulture
(UPDATE: Add four wild turkeys to the list.)

I also got to see an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, an Eastern Chipmunk, several Gray Squirrels and one Red Squirrel (who insisted upon climbing up on the deck to the rapt attention of Chester).

I got to play with the digiscoping equipment for a little while, too.
Rose-breasted Grossbeak
Several of these Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (males and females) came to the feeders and posed for pictures. They’ve been here for a little over a week and show no signs of wanting to move on.
Indigo Bunting and Goldfinch
The Indigo Buntings showed up two days ago and have become regulars at the feeders with the Goldfinches. There were at least three of these jeweled guys at and under the feeder.
Indigo Bunting
The bright blue really stands out against the trees and on the ground.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

There and back again

I drove up to the Bolt Hole Wednesday to drop off a new Craftsman lawnmower. It’s a walk behind, side discharger. I’ve about two acres of lawn when you add it all together and I enjoy the exercise I get from pushing the lawnmower around and around and around. It’s almost a zen-like experience. I had intended to cut the grass but found that the grass hadn’t grown enough to cut so all I did was assemble the machine, add the quart of oil, fill up the gas tank and start the Briggs & Stratton engine. First pull. You gotta love Briggs & Stratton! The 10-year old mower that I have been keeping in the garage up there is falling apart. The wheels are shot, the deck is rusted through and the handle is held together with oak staves and duct tape. But the Briggs & Stratton engine on that sucker starts up first pull every spring despite being in the unheated garage where the temperature can get down to -10 degrees on a cold Adirondack night.

I also had intended to repair the front gate. It had rotted and collapsed when Terry and I were up there on Saturday. But Mark beat me to it. He arrived just after we left on Saturday, saw the mess of gate parts and went to work on the repair. So I’ve got a “new” gate made from recycled parts and a pole from one of the many small fir trees in the area.

I DID get to fill the gas cans (about 12 gallons at $3.10 @--ouch) so when the grass does grow and the ATV comes out of the garage, we’ll have more than enough to haul wood and mow. (The bad news is that it takes me two gallons of gas to make the round trip to the gas station.)

I found the phone line full of static again. Every spring it seems a splice weakens somewhere along the line either under the weight of snow or from a tree branch landing on it somewhere. This static makes any normal conversation on the phone impossible and you can forget about dial-up computer connection. A call to the phone company and they had someone out checking the line and fixing splices so I could get online Wednesday night.

I also got to do a little more diagnostic work on the kitchen sink. I let the water run for about an hour to clear some of the silt and grime out of the pipe lines (something that I need to do every spring) and discovered that the repair I had made back in December had not held. There was water leaking from the J-trap area under the sink. I pulled the pipes apart, rewrapped the fittings with Teflon tape and put it back together. No good. Water was still dripping from the bottom of the J-trap. I felt around all the fittings but they felt dry, so where was the water coming from? There was a puddy-like substance along the side of the J-trap and it felt loose—and wet. I took the pipes apart again and examined the lump of material on the side of the pipe. It looked like old chewing gum (and as a former teacher, I know of which I speak) and it was definitely loose and wet. I peeled it off and found the pipe had a 2 ½ inch long hairline crack.

With the several jobs planned (but not performed) I stayed overnight and headed back to the Aerie Thursday morning.

On my way back to PA today, I stopped at the hardware store and purchased a new J-trap for under the kitchen sink. And some more Teflon tape. When I get back to the Bolt Hole next week, I’ll make the installation.

I really should have taken some pictures…sigh

Monday, May 07, 2007

This word, “Consensus,”
I do not think it means
what you think it means.

And “Peer review”---pffft.

Peer Review, Publication In Top Journals, Scientific Consensus, And So Forth by Robert Higgs from the History News Network of George Mason University
Peer review, on which lay people place great weight, varies from important, where the editors and the referees are competent and responsible, to a complete farce, where they are not.

As I have always counseled young people whose work was rejected, seemingly on improper or insufficient grounds, the system is a crap shoot. Personal vendettas, ideological conflicts, professional jealousies, methodological disagreements, sheer self-promotion and a great deal of plain incompetence and irresponsibility are no strangers to the scientific world; indeed, that world is rife with these all-too-human attributes. In no event can peer review ensure that research is correct in its procedures or its conclusions.
It is always dangerous to talk about consensus as if it proves anything in science. Remember, there was a consensus at one time that the Earth was the center of the Universe and the Sun, Moon and stars revolved about little old Terra Firma.
At any given time, consensus may exist about all sorts of matters in a particular science. In retrospect, however, that consensus is often seen to have been mistaken. As recently as the mid-1970s, for example, a scientific consensus existed among climatologists and scientists in related fields that the earth was about the enter a new ice age. Drastic proposals were made, such as exploding hydrogen bombs over the polar icecaps (to melt them) or damming the Bering Strait (to prevent cold Arctic water from entering the Pacific Ocean), to avert this impending disaster. Well-reputed scientists, not just uninformed wackos, made such proposals. How quickly we forget.
So, how did we get so many Chicken Littles screaching about the latest coming catastrophe? (Doesn’t there seem to be a new one every six months or so? Sometimes they over lap—like avian flu and Climate Change As Caused by Man.)
Research worlds, in their upper reaches, are pretty small. Leading researchers know all the major players and what everybody else is doing. They attend the same conferences, belong to the same societies, send their grad students to be postdocs in the other people's labs, review one another's work for the NSF, NIH, or other government funding organizations, and so forth. If you do not belong to this tight fraternity, it will prove very, very difficult for you to gain a hearing for your work, to publish in a "top" journal, to acquire a government grant, to receive an invitation to participate in a scientific-conference panel discussion, or to place your grad students in decent positions. The whole setup is tremendously incestuous; the interconnections are numerous, tight, and close.
So it’s a little daisy chain of folks working up to a feeding frenzy. It’s publish or perish time.
…these two contexts are themselves tightly linked: if you don't get funding, you'll never produce publishable work, and if you don't land good publications, you won't continue to receive funding.
But, what are they to feed upon? Where is the funding going to come from? Why government grants, of course! Ah, but how to insure the much needed cash will flow your way?
When your research implies a "need" for drastic government action to avert a looming disaster or to allay some dire existing problem, government bureaucrats and legislators (can you say "earmarks"?) are more likely to approve it. If the managers at the NSF, NIH, and other government funding agencies gave great amounts of money to scientists whose research implies that no disaster looms or no dire problem now exists or even that although a problem exists, no currently feasible government policy can do anything to solve it without creating even greater problems in the process, members of Congress would be much less inclined to throw money at the agency, with all the consequences that an appropriations cutback implies for bureaucratic thriving. No one has to explain all these things to the parties involved; they are not idiots, and they understand how the wheels are greased in their tight little worlds.

But don’t these scientists know what they are talking about? Maybe, maybe not. There are limits to their knowledge. No one is qualified or knowledgeable enough to hold forth on everything at once. Although they will try.
Finally, we need to develop a much keener sense of what a scientist is qualified to talk about and what he is not qualified to talk about. Climatologists, for example, are qualified to talk about the science of climatology (though subject to all the intrusions upon pure science I have already mentioned). They are not qualified to say, however, that "we must act now" by imposing government "solutions" of some imagined sort. They are not professionally knowledgeable about what risk is better or worse for people to take; only the individuals who bear the risk can make that decision, because it's a matter of personal preference, not a matter of science. Climatologists know nothing about cost/benefit considerations; indeed, most mainstream economists themselves are fundamentally misguided about such matters (adopting, for example, procedures and assumptions about the aggregation of individual valuations that lack a genuine scientific basis). Climate scientists are the best qualified people to talk about climate science, but they have no qualifications to talk about public policy, law, or individual values, rates of time preference, and degrees of risk aversion. In talking about desirable government action, they give the impression that they are either fools or charlatans, but they keep talking―worst of all, talking to doomsday-seeking journalists― nevertheless.
But the UN issued a report and countries around the world are listening to it. Shouldn’t we?
In this connection, we might well bear in mind that the United Nations (and its committees and the bureaus it oversees) is no more a scientific organization than the U.S. Congress (and its committees and the bureaus it oversees). When decisions and pronouncements come forth from these political organizations, it makes sense to treat them as essentially political in origin and purpose.
So, is the current hysteria science or politics? And if it is science, is it good science or just a lot of folks looking for a gravy train to ride? (Politicians are always looking for that gravy train.)

Properly Planned Wind Farms
Won't Harm Birds (as a population)

A congressionally mandated study released by the National Research Council (NRC) says: Wind Turbines Not a Threat to U.S. Bird Population

The last few meetings of the local Audubon Club included discussions as to what position the club should take vis-à-vis wind turbines. There are several locations here in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania being studied for potential wind turbine sites. The mountain ridges run east west and the winds coming from the north or northwest could generate tremendous amounts of energy. Our club’s concern is with the birds, of course, but also with the need for clean energy alternatives.

One thing that was discovered early on was that the local and state governments had no guidelines by which either the developer or the opponents to development could look for assistance.
But while some states have developed guidelines, wind energy is such a recent addition to the energy mix in most areas -- the nation's wind-energy capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006 -- that most states are relatively inexperienced at planning and regulation.
Just this past week Tioga County did adopt some preliminary guidelines which put any construction of wind turbines under the gees of the planning committees and building inspectors. A small but important step.

As far as the impact on bird populations:
Focusing its study on a mountainous region that included parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, the report cited that bird deaths caused by collisions with wind turbines are a minute fraction of total anthropogenic bird deaths -- less than 0.003% [three of every 100,000] in 2003.
The study does admit that in some local and/or poorly planned areas the impact can be more substantial.
While the study found that wind facilities can have certain adverse environmental effects on a local or regional level, the report committee saw no evidence that fatalities from existing wind facilities are causing measurable changes in bird populations in the U.S. A possible exception to this is deaths among birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, near Altamont Pass, California -- a facility with older, smaller turbines that appear more apt to kill such birds than newer models of wind turbines.

As the second commenter to the story mentions, the older, smaller, and more inefficient turbines used at Altamont pass will have to be replaced which should alleviate some of the problem in that locale.

And as the first commenter opines, cats do far more damage to the bird population so why don’t we fight harder to keep Tabby indoors and/or declawed and neutered?

I get the jitters whenever I see a cat walking across a field or along the side of a road. I probably shouldn’t now that I live in farm country and most of the farm cats earn their keep in and around the barn but they still “freelance” a bit on their own time.

Back in NJ there were folks who would intentionally feed feral cats at the train station. There had to be several dozen of these beasts. Whenever someone would propose capturing them and euthanizing these feral critters…well, the howling wasn’t just from the cats!

I don’t like free roaming dogs either.

(My three cats are neutered and are indoor cats. I won’t declaw them, however.)

The Faithful Heretic

From the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News:
Reid A. Bryson holds the 30th PhD in Meteorology granted in the history of American education.

And more awards and honors than you can shake a stick at. He’s 86 years old and has seen and done a lot in his chosen field. He’s an expert’s expert. And he was ahead of the crowd.
Almost 40 years ago, Bryson stood before the American Association for the Advancement of Science and presented a paper saying human activity could alter climate.
“I was laughed off the platform for saying that,” he told Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News.

So, what does he think of all this hullabaloo over CO2 causing Global Warming?
“All this argument is the temperature going up or not, it’s absurd,” Bryson continues. “Of course it’s going up. It has gone up since the early 1800s, before the Industrial Revolution, because we’re coming out of the Little Ice Age, not because we’re putting more carbon dioxide into the air.”

So what about the CO2 in the models devised to predict the coming heat wave?
In the first 30 feet of the atmosphere, on the average, outward radiation from the Earth, which is what CO2 is supposed to affect, how much [of the reflected energy] is absorbed by water vapor? In the first 30 feet, 80 percent, okay?

And how much is absorbed by carbon dioxide? Eight hundredths of one percent. One one-thousandth as important as water vapor. You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide.

But….But..the models!?
This begs questions about the widely publicized mathematical models researchers run through supercomputers to generate climate scenarios 50 or 100 years in the future. Bryson says the data fed into the computers overemphasizes carbon dioxide and accounts poorly for the effects of clouds—water vapor. Asked to evaluate the models’ long-range predictive ability, he answers with another question: “Do you believe a five-day forecast?”


The rest of the article/interview is here.

(Seen at The Drudge Report)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What if?

What if Richard Reid had succeeded in igniting his “shoe bomb” on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami in 2001? What would have happened? There is now a video out there that shows what could have been and the results are quite shocking.
The footage — obtained by the News of the World from security sources — show the shoe-bomb blast tearing a hole through the metal fuselage as if it were tin foil.
Well, that’s basically because that’s what an airplane is. It’s just aluminum wrapped around an aluminum frame. It’s really quite amazing the damn things fly successfully.

And if something explodes inside? Think Jiffy Pop.

Gaia has a virus. Us.

One environmentalist is now comparing man to a virus.
Apparently, saving the whales is more important than saving 5.5 billion people. Paul Watson, founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and famous for militant intervention to stop whalers, now warns mankind is “acting like a virus” and is harming Mother Earth.

This guy would like to see the world population shrink to around 1 billion people. I wonder how he would choose to reach that number? Especially since he sees it a necessary to reach that value (one-fifth the current population) almost, well, yesterday.

Watson’s full editorial can be found and read here.

Getting Old(er) is a pain

But it does beat the alternative.
There and Back Again

Almost four weeks ago we had a heavy wet snowfall here at the Aerie that measured around 8 inches. If it had been dry flaky powder, I would have used the snow blower to clear the driveway but it was so wet that the blower wouldn’t/couldn’t blow the snow more than a foot or two and that made it impractical. Instead, I took the shovel in hand and cleared the drive the old fashioned way by muscle power.

That was a mistake. In the last decade or so I have had two back surgeries for a herniated disc and a cyst, both in the lumbar region. I’ve also had to have a process whereby the doctor flooded a partially herniated disc with cortisone to alleviate severe pain also in the lumbar region. My surgeon has told me I suffer from lumbar spinal stenosis , which, as I understand it, means the nerves radiating from the spinal column pass through unusually narrow passageways. Any inflammation to those nerves results in a very negative feedback whereby the inflamed and swollen nerve presses against the walls of that passageway and becomes even more inflamed. He warned me that any stress to my lower back could result in another bout of incapacitating pain that could be “cured” only by lots of rest and drugs—or surgery.

After last year’s log home construction project, during which I was initially very careful but grew more reckless as time passed and I suffered no back pain at all, I felt, well, invincible. So, with shovel in hand I proceeded to dig my own grave, so to speak. Two hours of tossing heavy, wet snow and I was at the end of the driveway where heavy, wet snow mixed with the plowed up mud of the road and that’s when the inevitable occurred. I wrenched my back.

The next day, and the days to follow, I began to pay for my actions. Pain started in the lower back and left buttocks and progressed down my left leg passed my knee into the shin area. When they didn’t go away after a week I went to see the doctor at the local clinic. He prescribed some medication for pain and muscle spasms. (I knew it wasn’t muscle spasms and tried to tell him of my history but he was taking the normal steps for my symptoms.) When those medicines didn’t do the job after a week I went back to him and got a stronger prescription that did relieve the pain but made me more drowsy. At least I was then able to sleep through the night.

During the past three weeks, walking for any length of time was painful but things were improving. When I wasn’t going birding I did a great deal of resting. Finally, yesterday I felt well enough that we were able to make the long drive up to the Bolt Hole. This was something we had been putting off because of the weather (lots of snow up north in April) and then because of my discomfort. Driving for four hours was not something I was looking forward to but it had to be done.

Back in February, when I was last up to the Bolt Hole, I had discovered that the freezer door of the fridge had been left ajar and mice had raided the butter and other fatty items in there leaving empty wrappers and droppings galore. Luckily, the unheated cabin was cold enough that the venison that we had put in the freezer never thawed out so I was able to salvage nearly all the very lean meat that the mice didn’t want. I also discovered that the propane gas that fuels the stove was not flowing to the burners. My buddy, Mark, turned off the tanks for me and we waited for spring to reach the northlands.

Anyway, yesterday, Terry and I made the 200+ mile drive to see what we could do about cleaning the freezer, fixing the propane problem, turn on the water and see what else we could bring back to the Aerie. It turns out that the propane regulator, which is located on the north side of the cabin and only a foot or so above ground level, was buried in the snow that slid off the roof and the air intake was clogged. When the snow melted, the air could flow again and so could the propane. The refrigerator and freezer were still working. I had feared they might have burned out, what with being open for the entire month of January. Mice were/are definitely a problem but one that will take several days (?) of trapping to fix. We found some clothes of Terry’s, three captain’s chairs and some pictures that we loaded into the truck to bring south. We finished what we wanted to do in about three hours and, in part because I was still feeling okay, we drove back to the Aerie.

It turned into a long day but because of the lumbar support of the truck seat, I still felt good when we arrived in PA. With luck, and some careful, low impact exercise, I should be back to normal in a week or two. Lord knows I’ve plenty to do around both properties.