Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sex in the City - Garden Edition

Hidden among the trimmings
Well, this settles it - we for sure have female and male Eastern box turtles in our back yard. Last year at this time, we saw two, and were fairly sure they were opposite sexes (click here). This morning, everything was confirmed. I was cleaning up a pile of tree branch trimmings from last week. As I was picking up each branch from a pile and chopped them up with a pair of hand shears into a yard waste recycling bag, I noticed a half shell of a black walnut nut shell?....or was it a champagne bottle cork? the pile of branches with leaves. No, it was a small tortoise. I showed it to Jan, asking what she thought it was - she guessed first time correctly. She got my camera, and was a willing portrait prop - a small miracle given she does not like things that move on their own other than grandchildren, dogs, and cats (1). It likely turned out to be the most photographed reptile of its kind this morning. After we were finished admiring our find, I put it in a shaded and moist bed at the back of the yard - well protected. After ten more minutes of pruning, when I went back to the release point, it had disappeared somewhere in our constructed habitat - just like its parents do - its the turtle way.
Close up of a young Eastern Box Turtle
Reproduction does not come readily or easily to Eastern box turtles.  It can take a female box turtle at least five years, and possibly a full decade, to reach sexual maturity. When she is ready to breed, she must first encounter a mate, which may or may not happen depending on whether her home territory (which she won’t leave) happens to overlap with a mate’s home territory (which he won’t leave). She may then lay eggs, but they will be few in number and may include some infertile ones. If the eggs make it to hatching, the hatchlings will be extremely vulnerable to predation and few if any will make it to adulthood. Given the odds against reproductive success for box turtles, this is why it is so important to the long-term viability of any local population to leave it intact and not remove any adults. (2)

Eastern Box Turtle natural range
Box turtle mating season begins in the spring and continues through the summer. A male may mate with the same female several years in a row, or with several females, depending on availability. Interestingly, females can lay fertile eggs up to four years after a successful mating. Females make their nests in the leaf litter and lay 3 to 8 eggs per clutch.  Incubation lasts about three months, and temperature determines the sex of the young.  If eggs are incubated in a temperature range of 72-81 degrees Fahrenheit, the hatchlings will be male.  If the incubation temperature is 82 degrees or above, the hatchlings will be female. (2)
(1) See about a previous close encounter but clicking here.
(2) From the Maryland Zoo Website. Click there for more information.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Comparative Statuary - General Jose de San Martin

San Martin - Washington, D.C.
My usual walking route to the Truman Building is from Foggy Bottom Metro stop. My return route walking to either the Whitten Building or Metro is straight south along 23rd Street towards the Lincoln Memorial Circle,  then over to the Vietnam Memorial, then to the World War II Memorial, and back to the center of the Capital Mall near the Washington Monument. My slight deviation turned up another new statue - the General Jose de San Martin Memorial on Virgina Avenue near the State Department, and the Full Count statues described in a previous blog. The statue is a replica of a statue of the General in Buenos Aires, and was presented as a gift to the United States from Argentina in 1925 - President Coolidge spoke at the dedication.

It popped into my mind when I saw the lone figure on Virginia Avenue this past week, that I had seen the original last October in Buenos Aires. After a dinner at a restaurant that specialized in beef - grass fed,
Cuts of beef roasting
off the Argentine pampas - another conference attendee from Germany I had just me and I did a little tourist site-seeing near our hotel. We came upon a large plaza with a beautiful statue in a grand setting - the city's skyline just beyond the treeline. The Plaza 
San Martin memorializing Argentina's "George Washington" is expansive, the statue very detailed - people and pigeons alike rest near it and leisurely walk by, and an old man shouted at us in Spanish - we just kept on walking admiring the statue and ignoring him, not knowing if he wanted to tell us about legendary accomplishments by the General, or that he had a dislike
Monument to Jose de San Martin - Buenos Aires
for people who looked like northern Europeans. Buenos Aires had the feeling of a European city - everyone spoke Spanish, and many seemed to smoke cigarettes. All of the boulevards were crowded with cars, but everyone seemed polite - yielding generously when needed. The city I saw, looks like the one I had seen on television - through the eyes of eager real estate seekers on House Hunters International. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in the city, even if for just a short time - I would have to learn more Spanish.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Loureatha's Office Window

Room 220-W Window
While waiting for a conference call, I saw this view from my chair in a secretary's office at the USDA Whitten Office Building. Loureatha used to work out across the Beltway at the Carver Center in Beltsville where I got to know her. She has been working downtown Washington, D.C. for some time now - in some of the best and most visible office space in the entire capital city. This is a second floor window at the end of the west wing of the building. The potted plants on the window ledge, the scattered papers on the table below, and the outside light fixture make this otherwise remarkable view a little bit prosaic - something you could see from any office building anywhere in the country, but the Washington Monument in the distance brings you back to reality - this isn't just any office window in any city.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Walk in the Park - Full Count

After leaving the Harry S. Truman building much easier leaving than arriving (see the previous post), I I turned left on C Street and started heading kind of south, figuring I would eventually get to my next meeting at the Whitten Building. It was a good thing I had headed in a bit of a different direction, because there was a sculpted piece in 
Full Count - John Dryfuss
Washington, D.C. that I hadn't seen before - Full Count, by John Dreyfuss (1). It seems that there is a statue in every park. The baseball theme with a pitcher standing out in the grass all alone made me think about Jamie Moyer, and how a month or so ago I found out that he had injured himself in the Dominican winter league - this could mean the end of his career. His contract with the Philadelphia Phillies was allowed to run out this past year. While waiting for his elbow to recover, Moyer is working as an analyst on ESPN. I wonder if this is the first time there has been a son-in-law/father-in-law, Digger Phelps, duo working for the same sports network. The Phillies news hasn't forgotten him - Moyer hopes for a comeback in 2012. Looking from left to right at each of the images, the series of photographs tell a story (2). Since I hung around looking at the sculpture taking photographs, I thought it best to take a cab to my next meeting - not the kind of thing that Moyer would do, especially someone who will try to come back at age 49.
(1) Full Count is on display in the grassy area between the Federal Reserve Board's Martin Building and Virginia Avenue.

(2) Never mind that there are streaks of bird droppings on the pitcher - obviously, the umpire isn't doing his job of keeping the the game moving along. With staging of the photo series, I think the next pitch is a strike - what about you?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Watching and Waiting

I did a two-talk day today. First to an advisory committee, and then to a group of delegates who have been working for a couple of years on a position paper about biofuels. I took a cab from the Crystal City Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Virginia to Harry S. Truman Building. I couldn't get to the 21st Street entrance because the President's car had arrived just a couple of minutes before me - just a little bit of bad timing (1). If I would have caught my cab a little earlier, maybe I would have had a Kodak Moment. It was still interesting - the notable yellow
At the corner of 21st Street and Virginia Avenue
police line ribbon was stretched across the sidewalk, and I was standing at the corner of 21st and Virginia Avenue with a group of State Department employees who couldn't get back to their offices. The composite photograph done with the Photoshop software using the File / Automate / Photomerge commands shows the scene: flashing police and Secret Service cars and SUV's, officers with hand phones, and a line of police motorcycles. After a little while I was told that I could walk around the building the long way to the C Street entrance. My host met me there and got me through security. It is pretty cool the coming and goings that are a part of daily life in the Washington, D.C. area. I was pretty proud of myself - both talks for the day were finished last night before 11:30 PM. That was better than the situation I wrote about in Human Nature a couple of months ago. I was still up early finishing some paperwork and taking a conference call at 7:15 AM with folks around the D.C. area and in Beijing. I'm ready for bed and a few pages from one of several books I'm juggling at the same time. It might be nice to listen to a quiet song to relax with - watching and waiting for the next burst of effort to get ready for the next set of deadlines.
(1) Both Jan and I heard on the radio (separately), that the President was going to give a policy speech at the State Department this morning. I figured it would be before noon, so was surprised that it was at mid-day, but I knew right away what was up when I arrived and the street was cordoned off.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Must Have Been the Gas

2010 Toyota Prius
Today was remarkable - for a commuting day. I filled my 2010 Prius up with gas at the Shell station near our home on the way from work Monday evening. With the tank full, I drove to the BWI Airport and back to Annapolis Tuesday morning, then to work and home, and today to work and home. End result: 60 miles per gallon - remarkable. The best gas mileage I have had is 56 mpg, with around 55 typical during the summer and around 49 in winter. I normally fill up at the Exxon Station at the corner of Hillsmere and the end of
167 miles at 60 miles per gallon
Forest Drive, before it turns into Bay Ridge Road. Because the Giant Grocery gives gas points that are redeemed at Shell Stations in town, I went there instead: 60 cents off per gallon - remarkable. If you are going to have to drive, this is the way to do it. I don't know how high I can run up the gas use efficiency - it will just be a matter of my driving style, the kinds of miles, and a slower than usual emptying tank - remarkable. Maybe it's what is in the tank - it may be that I may a Tiger by the Tail, rather than a Tiger in the Tank.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Red-Bellied Woodpecker - The Latest

Red-bellied Woodpecker
I was just thinking today, when will I see a new bird in the yard - it happened this evening after dinner. A little earlier while we were finishing our meal, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird male came up to the large planter pots in front of our small deck landing at the patio sliding glass door (1) - for five six seasons we have only seen females, so this one didn't count as "new." But the the Red-bellied Woodpecker that swooped in and landed on the seed feeder was new, added to the sightings in previous years of Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers. All four of these birds are common in the eastern half of the United States, but is is good to see some additional diversity come our way. The only mystery, is why is it called "red-bellied?"(2) From the three angles of the photographs I took, no sign of red on the belly. It was interesting that the bird went for the seed feeder, rather than the suet feeder as the Downy Woodpecker does with regularity. That was the first thing Jan noted while we watched. When you consider the dreary clouded sky this evening and then add up all of the red we saw with the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and the always-present Northern Cardinal male - it is a nice contrast.
(1)Verbena seems to have been the attractant.

(2) For a discussion about the "red belly," go to the link here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Driving Short-Cut, Navy-Marine Corps Stadium Parking

We have lived in Annapolis for five years, and during the four years that our son was at the Naval Academy, we learned the best ways to get around town when visitors would pour into town. We live on the south side of the city (off Bay Ridge Road), so have seen how traffic flows (or not), depending on normal commuting patterns, scheduled events, and times of the day when the weather is nice on weekends and everyone and his grandmother are in the Downtown Annapolis and City Dock areas.

Without a DoD identification, automobile pass, or disabled driver placard, you cannot park on the Naval Academy Yard. There is also municipal parking available around town, but I won't make any recommendations about that, and of course, if you are staying at a hotel, there may be shuttle service available. A good option for your car while attending an event at the Academy is parking at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for five dollars. When major events are happening, the typical way folks come into town is on Route 50 and Rowe Boulevard - these can be painfully slow.

If you are driving into Annapolis, the route we recommend is to take Exit 22 from Route 50 onto Aris T Allen Boulevard to Forest Drive East, and then taking Hilltop Lane to Spa Road (turn left) (1). Spa Road leads to the traffic circle at West Street, where you drive half way around to Taylor Avenue. Follow Taylor Avenue to the entrance of the stadium parking (you will have to turn left across traffic into the entrance). It costs $5 to park, but the shuttle buses to the Academy are free. More information about parking at the stadium can be found clicking here.

After your event, either exit the way you entered, or if the gates to south are open, exit to Cedar Park Road and turn left until you get to Taylor, and then turn right and back out the way you came. We found that even leaving parking after football games, this was the easiest way to get away from the stadium. (2) It is also worth noting, you can take lawn chairs or wheel chairs with you when you catch the shuttle buses at the stadium - there are storage areas under the buses. This is really helpful when you need to wait for the buses to return to the stadium while on the Yard, and for helping elderly friends or relatives getting around instead of walking.

A significant length of Forest Drive was widened to three lanes in both directions this past year, and since the construction was completed a couple of months ago, I have yet to have to wait more than one stop light to get through the intersection of Chinquapin Round Road where Aris T Allen turns into Forest Drive, east. Gone are the days of traffic backed up a quarter mile or more, beyond the overpass of Route 2. (3)

A Google Map showing the route can be found by clicking here.
(1) You can also go to the light at Spa Road with Forest Drive and turn left onto Spa Road.

(2) Often on football game days, it is possible to enter parking with a season parking pass through the gates along Cedar Park Road.

(3) This has taken at least 10 minutes off of my commute home every day from the Washington, D.C. Beltway - I-495.

Distant Garden - Montpelier Birds

Madisons' distant garden
We took our second drive to Montpelier today - the home of James Madison, near Orange, Virginia. My wife's sister is visiting from California, so we planned to make the two-hour drive, regardless that there was a good chance of rain. The two hours we spend on the grounds of the estate didn't produce any appreciable rain, and our tour guide was full of information. The house is still in the process of restoration, but much has been done since last September when we visited the first time with my brother. The mansion is more than an hours' drive from Washington, D.C., so one must go a bit out-of-the-way to visit - the crowds are small which complements the peaceful surroundings - the place is idyllic - dripping in history, pleasing to the eye. We love Mount Vernon, but there is just something about being out in the countryside, past so many rolling hills, and farms. If not for the signs along the roads leading to Montpelier, you would never know of the shattered peace at places like Manassas, Chancellorsville, and Wilderness. These would seem to now be wonderful places to bird in Virginia.

We will have to make a third trip sometime - we didn't leave Annapolis until 11:45, so with the normal two hour drive, a little extra traffic today, and a five-o'clock closing, we didn't have that much time after the tour to walk about the grounds, especially through the gardens and in-and-out of the tree lines around the estate where there were many birds singing and calling to one another, and to a visitor with
Hardscape, and a little soft
field glasses and a camera. As we walked up to the mansion, American Crow, Common Grackle, and a Cooper's Hawk were flying north in the distance - the songs of birds were coming from the woods along the path from Visitor Center to the mansion. Barn Swallows (a) were also flying in and out under the eaves of the entrance - even as we waited on the portico, listening to our tour guide's introduction. From inside the house when looking out the windows, an occasional Grackle flew by, heading to the front law that interrupts the view west towards the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After the tour and our backdoor exit, American Robins were seen on the large lawn behind the house, and as I walked back to look, a Brown Thrasher joined them and then coyly kept his distance - flying towards the trees bordering the turf at the back. In a large tree near the path on the way to garden's entrance, a White-breasted
Three Montpelier birds
Nuthatch (b) crept down an massive tree limb - coming in and out of the shadows, making it difficult to get a decent final photograph. As walking through the brick gate, bird songs continued, and immediately a Brown Thrasher landed on the gravel path and maneuvered in and out of the hedge border, even landing on a rail to the steps that led down into the lower garden - below where the beds of spring corms and bulbs were in bloom - peonies and iris, and others. A pair of Northern Mockingbird (c) flew into the garden in the distance towards the southern garden wall - landing on the turf, across to some trees to the southwest, and then flying up into the spruce trees to the eastern border of the garden.

Horses' afternoon grazing
My wife and her sister-in-law had gone on without me to see the exhibits of the era when William and Annie duPont owned the home. It was getting towards closing time, and I wanted to keep birding, but it was time to move on. There was a small bird on an electric wire continually singing, but silhouetted against the overcast sky back lighted by the late-afternoon sun - no way to make an identification, no matter what angle I took - perhaps a flycatcher of some kind, hard to tell - it will have to be another day. Horses in a fenced pasture below - down the slope from the ridge at the foot of the garden, grazing grasses and clovers.

Northern Mockingbird
Common Grackle
Northern Cardinal
Barn Swallow
Brown Thrasher
American Robin
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Crow

Montpelier and American Crow
As we were driving away, and taking a last look at the house, we stopped for one last photograph - we were still in tourist mode. While I took a shot through the haze with crows and grackles on the lawn, several Northern Cardinal flew by the car.  No new species to add to my list - with Eastern Bluebird boxes mounted on fence post, alone along the road, seeming unattended.
Some good reference sites on the Web for birding in Virginia can be found clicking here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Off The Wall Remarks

One of many signs recognizing 100 years.
This year is the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation. The way I found out was from a customer I have been working with this year on a renewable jet fuel commercialization effort he is pulling together in Kansas as part of a redevelopment project for a town that was devastated by an EF5 tornado in 2007 - the town is being rebuilt as a green community. Soon after we began interacting, I found out he is a former Naval Aviator, and he found out my son is a Naval Aviator in training. As it turns out, his last duty station was Corpus Christi Naval Air Station as a flight instructor - the same place our son is now, just 40 years later - but as it turns out, the same Training Squadron. So today, when on my way to a meeting at the Department of Transportation building (1) on New Jersey Avenue, I took the Green Line train to Navy Yard Metro stop - one block away. As I exited was exiting the station, on the walls and on banners above the walk ways are signs commemorating the founding of Naval Aviation - I had to take a shot on my return to the station on my way home after the meeting. I think it is pretty cool that my son may get his wings in the Centennial Year.
(1) Part of the meeting just happened to be about renewable jet fuel.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Gallery Place - Picture Perfect

Tenaya Lake, Mount Conness and Mike
I had a meeting with several wildlife advocacy organizations this afternoon. One of the organizations has a large collection of Ansel Adams photograph prints on display. My understanding is that a stipulation of the Ansel Adams Foundation for receipt of the collection was that it had to be available for viewing in a gallery format. Fortunately the group was able to access an adjacent property that had been a delicatessen - and voila: a gallery. One of the folks I met with was kind enough to stand beside one of the exhibits (1) so I could snap a shot - no use of Zone System in my composition. As Mike explained the history of the collection, and made a quick pointer about how to tell if a print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico was of high value (2) I smiled at the thought of all the creativity that was on display. I remember once seeing copies of Adams' prints on sale in Carmel, California for, I think, $75 way back when - but who had $75 for a photographic print back then. The display at The Wilderness Society headquarters is fabulous - I will have to go back and take my time viewing the collection, after all, it is just a short walk from a Metro stop away (3).
(1) Ansel Adams, Tenaya Lake, Mount Conness, Yosemite National Park, California. c. 1942.

(2) Look for a narrow band of clouds below and to the right of the moon, towards the right border of the print, and above the major bank of clouds above the horizon.

(3) The walk to The Wilderness Society from Farragut North Metro Station is a few blocks, and from Farragut West, a few more blocks. Gallery Place in the title of this blog is just a play on words - it would be a much longer walk.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

On the Water - In the Rafters

We had a late-lunch/early-dinner (1) for Mother's Day today at the Chart House restaurant on Spa Creek. Our friends, also without children - all grown and out of town - had made reservations, and as it turned out, we got a great table facing the Naval Academy across the water. Looking up in the rafters of the dining room, I spotted a crew
USNA Men's Eight - 1952 Olympics
boat commemorating a 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics victory. I did a quick Google search on my Blackberry, and saw that two United States teams won championships that year, and assumed by the size of the memorial boat, that is must have been the Men's Coxless Pairs, but was wrong - it was the Men's Eights rowing team that won. A little more digging on-line back home, and the reason for U.S. Naval Academy being written on the hull was clear - it was a USNA team that won the gold medal. Duh - I guess back then they didn't construct the most competitive teams from where ever the best eight rowers could be found. There are simple biographies for each of the team members on Wikipedia: Frank Shakespeare, William Fields, James Dubar, Richard Murphy, Robert Detweiler, Henry Procter, Wayne Frye, Edward Stevens, and coxswain Charles Manring. A detailed run down of the competition and the team members for the 50-year reunion of the event can be found by clicking here. The team was coached by Rusty Callow - a legend in his own right.
(1) By the way, it was an excellent meal.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bethany Beach - Delaware Coast Bird Sampling

I enjoy having once again an SLR camera. I haven't taken photographs with a telephoto lens for more than 10 years, and my Nikon fitted with an 55-200 mm zoom telephoto lens allows me the opportunity get close enough for a reasonable shot. Other than the beach shots, the rest of the photographs were taken at Sea Colony - a development with nice grounds, but not exactly the wilds of the Delaware coast. Some of the birds that I saw and was able to get an image recorded were: (a) Canada Goose; (b) Great Blue Heron; (c) Mute Goose; (d) Willet; (e) Laughing Gull; (f) Black Vulture; (g) House Wren; (h) Gray Catbird; and (i) Tufted Titmouse. It would be nice to have a 400 or 500 mm telephoto lens. Compared to my old film Minolta equipment, the Rokkor 135 mm telephoto with a 2X doubler gave a nice touch. Having a digital format, there are no worries about the number of shots I take.