Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Honor Of This Night

The famous line (1) used by Snoopy, the beagle character in the Charles Schultz Peanuts comic strip seems appropriate for a night like this: as the sky darkens, the rains become heavier, and the hurricane approaches....

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night
by Snoopy

The Author at Work
Part I

It was a dark and stormy night. 

Suddenly, a shot rang out!
A door slammed. The maid screamed. 

Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!

While millions of people were starving, the king lived
in luxury. 

Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was
growing up.

Part II

A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day. 
At that very moment, a young intern at City Hospital was
making an important discovery. 
The mysterious patient in Room 213 had finally awakened. 
She moaned softly. 
Could it be that she was the sister of the boy in Kansas
who loved the girl with the tattered shawl who was the
daughter of the maid who had escaped from the pirates?

The intern frowned. 
"Stampede!" the foreman shouted, and forty thousand head
of cattle thundered down on the tiny camp. 
The two men rolled on the ground grappling beneath the murderous hooves.
A left and a right. A left. Another left and right. An
uppercut to the jaw. 
The fight was over. And so the ranch
was saved.
The young intern sat by himself in one corner of the
coffee shop. he had learned about medicine, but more
importantly, he had learned something about life.
(1) The first 'dark and stormy night' was conjured up by the English Victorian novelist, playwright and politician who rejoiced in the name of Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton. It has become synonymous with the Victorian melodramatic style, of which Bulwer-Lytton's many works provide numerous examples. This style has long been out of fashion and considered kitsch and risible. So much so that, since 1982, an annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has been sponsored by the English Department of San José State University, California. Contestants are required "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels".

Bulwer-Lytton's own florid pre-contest attempt, in his novel Paul Clifford, 1830, began:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Hurricane Irene Preparedness - We Really Didn't Know What We Were Doing, But Did It Blow

Irene from space - NASA photograph
All of our preparations before Hurricane Irene were finished this morning as the morning rains began. All of the patio furniture is secure (stacked or turned over), patio umbrellas folded and placed under the deck, the flag outside our front door is stowed in the entry closet, and most important, the basement door is sandbagged and duct-taped to keep driving rain from seeping into the downstairs bedroom. I got soaked doing these last-minute chores, but it is better to be done now than sorry later like the Aesop fable grasshopper compared with the enterprising ant preparing for winter. We are well-supplied for a few days if the
Coleman multi-fuel camp stove
electricity goes out. There already were a few gallons of water in the downstairs refrigerator, but we bought some more bottles. It was a good thing that most of what we needed were already in hand, the Giant Grocery ran out right before we got to the isle (there were shoppers in the check-out lines in front of us with what must have been the last cases. We also bought some cans of ready-to-heat soup and assorted canned chicken spreads, along with apples and bananas. The gas station near our home had plenty of propane this morning, so our barbeque grill is ready to go with a full tank. There were many cans of fuel at the True Value Hardware store, so my forty-year-old Primus backpack stove and even more ancient Coleman single burner camp stove will be ready to be called upon if needed, but it would get old cooking regularly with this stove without the Sierra Nevada mountains as company, but warm food is better than cold - especially out of a can. So with small flashlight (with extra batteries), tubs of water in the bathtub to recharge the toilets if necessary, and charged handheld devices for communication with the outside world (I have already had to reset the wireless Apple Time Capsule wireless base station because of a short power outage), we are ready for the storm.

The American Goldfinches, House Finches, Mourning Doves, and Song Sparrows were getting in some last-minute lunch before the heavier rains began an hour or so ago. A Downy Woodpecker was making his way between the suet feeder and the finch feeder. Both he and a female
Goldfinch waits
who frequent the space outside the kitchen window are more dominant than the goldfinches - chasing the finches away whenever the two species come together. the woodpecker is distinctly aggressive towards the finches - making a lunging move towards the intruder. The finch is patient and waits until the checkered bully leaves, and then immediately resumes its normal place at the table. As many as four or five finches may feed at the same time - but then I have seen one male finch chase after another; streaking yellow aerobatic bodies hurling through the void between the branches of our backyard trees. The lone female Ruby-throated Hummingbird we have seen over the past week has made her appearance today between the Butterfly Bush, Rose of
Sharon, and liquid feeder - a short appearance, and then a quick exit out the side yard between houses. Even the male Eastern Box Turtle
Commercial Advertising Success
surprised us, and gave use an answer to the question of why we have seen him recently on the patio - he is obviously hiding out under the potted flowers that are around our deck landing. He let me take a picture of him this morning, but once I was finished and heading back into the house, he made a bee-line back for cover. It is amazing how fast a tortoise can move when necessary. The other day I happened to notice what looked like the last inch of a dark-colored reptile tail retreat under the cascades Impatience and Vinca Minor flowing down from the pots - maybe it wasn't a lizard as I thought then, but rather Mr. Slowsky. (1)

I have noticed after the last couple of big storms how there are often new bird species that turn up. Since Irene is going to be a significant event, it will be interesting to see what new shows up this time around. There is documentation of the impacts of extreme weather on wildlife - including birds. It will be time to watch what the early days next week bring.
(1) An advertising campaign for Comcast high-speed cable service.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Childrens' Lessons for a Grandfather

When we were on vacation in California last month (1), we took our grand kids swimming many times - as much as we could fit in. In fact, my favorite answer to just about all that they asked for was, "Yes." The second day we swam in my father-in-law's apartment pool, Micah kept
Do it again!
asking me to swim and race across the pool, over and over again - and we did. It reminded me of what G.K. Chesterton once wrote: "Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."(2) I don't remember indulging my own children this way, but this summer gave an opportunity to make amends - one generation removed.
(1) A road trip from Oregon to central California to the central coast to the Bay Area, and back to Oregon. At its peak, there were three generations comprised of three adults and three children - five and under. Another lesson learned was for the long haul, it takes more than being young at heart to take care of all of those kids. Stay young.
(2) From Orthodoxy, 1908, p. 92.

Kingsville, Texas - Birding Environs by Air and Land

Out-of-print Texas Wildlife Loop Map
Visiting grown children has its advantage - visits are guaranteed to be scheduled so Mom and Dad stay in touch, and thus opportunities are provided to look for new wildlife viewings - best defined as bird watches. We haven't had an chance to visit the Corpus Christi, Texas area - our son's training schedule was too busy to fit us in. But with his next assignment just an hour down the road along the Gulf Coast at Kingsville - and us helping him move - a near perfect opportunity presents itself. Especially since we will be using a couple of AirTran Travel Vouchers from nearly a year ago to at least get in some Open-60 (1) viewing in a place I have never been before. Fortunately, there are no blackout dates when using the vouchers in September.

As it turns out, not only are there the Kingsville coastal estuary environs to take advantage of, there is also the King Ranch and other slightly inland sites. Lots of birding sites are listed in the State of Texas in the legend to the Kingsville Loop Map. All of this information is a part of the Great Texas Wildlife Trails program. (2) Similar information is available for the Corpus Christi area as well.

As for birding guides, there are a number that are available. According to the Amazon reader reviews, there are a number of books listed with varying degrees of acclaim. I ended up ordering the ABA Birdfinding Guide: A Birder's Guide to the Texas Coast, Fifth edition from Buteo Books. Once we fly down to San Antonio and
Cooksey and Weeks Guide
drive into the area, I am sure I can pick up another more common field guide at a book store, but thought it best to go for the on-line order of the guide - less than $30, anyway. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any reviews of the book, but can't imagine it won't be useful or lacking depth in its scope of species and descriptions - compared to the more generic regional titles. While GOOGLE'ing bird books, I also found a Website called WorldTwitch - Finding Rare Birds Around the World. The site has a nice listing of birding book titles that can be queued by world regions and other pre-selected criteria that seems less complicated than sorting through the Amazon or other book seller site. Finally, what appears to be another good book is the one published by Texas A&M titled: Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail by Eubanks, Behrstock, and Davidson. It is written specifically for the Upper Texas Coast, but I presume it would be applicable to the mid and lower regions of the Texas coast. Price, only $23.
(1) Bird watching from the highway at 60 miles per hour with the window open.
(2) Unfortunately, it seems that the Website is not being maintained, because many of the links are not available when clicked - the state-funded program has been negatively impacted by the economic recession, so the maps are no longer available to be purchased, but may still be available at State Parks.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Light On Their Toes - Principles of Flight

American Lady and Ruby-throated
For their size, the butterflies and hummingbirds seem like the most light-toed creatures in our garden. They move about from flower to flower with what seems like little effort. I hadn't seen an American Lady butterfly (a) before, and few hummingbirds had appeared in the past years. This morning while drinking coffee and reading the paper on the patio, both of these showed up. The Ruby-throated hummingbird (b) female was checking out a really late-season gladiolus flower stalk right beside Jan, and the butterfly was working over the butterfly bush in towards the back of the yard. The butterfly flies silently, while as the hummingbird's wings beat, the humming sound is a near-silent give-away of this presence. Through the glass patio door windows, or from a distance, they are equally handicapped.

Their ability to fly is the result of the lift their wings afford them overcoming the force of gravity - their motion forward (and backward) by was of thrust that is more powerful than drag. Together, the result is the same for both - mobility about our yard and across fences when my creeping up on them for a picture exceeds their flight distance. A simple explanation for how all this works is shown in a video produced by NASA - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and available off of the Glenn Research Center Website.  The clip can be viewed by clicking on the video below.

It took a little bit of work for me to figure out that the butterfly was an American Lady. (1)  The Website Butterflies and Moths of North America - Collecting and sharing data about Lepidoptera is a great resource - better than other regional identification sites. It can be accessed by clicking here. The gallery for Butterflies and Moths of North America by clicking here. The site was pretty slow refreshing from one gallery page to the next, but after 13 pages, I made a positive identification. On the other hand, for the humming bird, I new from memory what it was, but when I looked it up I saw that it wasn't "red-throated", but rather "ruby". Other information about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird can be found clicking here. This link is from a Operation Ruby Throat Website with check-off lists for all of the states.
(1) American Lady
Vanessa virginiensis (Drury, 1773) 

Family: Nymphalidae

Subfamily: Nymphalinae
Identification: Upperside with uneven brown, yellow, and orange pattern. Forewing with a black apical patch, a small white spot in the orange field below the patch, and a white bar at the leading edge of the forewing. Underside of hindwing with two large eyespots. Winter form is smaller and paler, summer form larger with brighter coloring.
Life History: During the afternoon, males perch on hilltops or on low vegetation if there are no hills. Females lay eggs singly on the top of host plant leaves. Caterpillars are solitary, living and feeding in a nest of leaves tied with silk. Adults hibernate.
Wing Span: 1 3/4 - 2 5/8 inches (4.5 - 6.7 cm).
Caterpillar Hosts: Plants in the sunflower family everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), plantain-leaved pussy toes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), wormwood (Artemisia), ironweed (Vernonia), and burdock (Arctium).
Adult Food: Flower nectar almost exclusively, including dogbane, aster, goldenrod, marigold, selfheal, common milkweed, and vetch.
Habitat: Open places with low vegetation including dunes, meadows, parks, vacant lots, forest edges.
Range: Resident in the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America south to Colombia. Migrates to and temporarily colonizes the northern United States, southern Canada, the West Indies, and Europe. Rare stray to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Conservation: Not required.
NCGR: G5 - Demonstrably secure globally, though it may be quite rare in parts of its range, especially at the periphery.
Management Needs: None reported.

(2) Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Archilochus colubris

The male ruby-throated hummingbird does indeed have a striking red throat, though the female of the species does not. You would have to look quickly to see either, however, as these speedy little birds can beat their wings 53 times a second and fly in an acrobatic style matched by few other birds. They hover often, and also fly upside down and backwards. These hummingbirds have extremely short legs, so they cannot walk or even hop with any efficiency.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds live in woodland areas, but also frequent gardens where flowering plants are plentiful. They hover to feed on flowers, nectar, and sap. During this floral feeding process, the birds pollinate many plants.

These tiny birds are omnivores, sometimes feeding on insects and spiders. An adult ruby-throated hummingbird may eat twice its body weight in food each day, which it burns up with the high metabolism necessary to sustain its rapid wing beat and energetic movements.

This hummingbird breeds in eastern North America and is the only hummingbird species to do so. Males establish a territory and court females who enter it with flying and diving behaviors, and by showing off their red throat plumage. Females provide all care for young hummingbirds. They lay one to three eggs, incubate them for about two weeks, and, after hatching, feed their young for about three weeks. A female may have several broods in a year. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are largely solitary outside of the breeding season.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds winter in Mexico and Central America. To get there from their North American breeding grounds some birds embark on a marathon, nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico. They may double their weight in preparation for this grueling journey.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Another Bird Learned

Navy Boeing T-45 Goshawk
It was just 15 months ago that we were watching the Blue Angels from the field at the Naval Academy, right before the Class of 2010 Graduation. With our son finishing Primary Flight School earlier this week, the news yesterday was what his next training platform would be and the kind of pilot he would be. The word yesterday around 1400 Eastern Time: JETS. My vocabulary is expanding when it comes to knowing different naval aviation planes. In the paragraphs below are a few that are being added to the check-off list - like the birds in my back yard.

Over 200 students a year report to Training Air Wing TWO for Undergraduate Jet Pilot Training. These students report to one of two training squadrons, Training Squadron TWENTY ONE or TRAINING SQUADRON TWENTY TWO. The Training Air Wing is responsible for providing the fleet with newly winged Navy and Marine Corps aviators. The Air Wing consists of approximately 250 student naval aviators, 75 instructor pilots, 80 civilian personnel, and 100 T-45A and T-45C "Goshawk" aircraft. Introduced to NAS Kingsville in 1992, the Goshawk is part of the T-45 Training System (TS) developed by McDonnell Douglas, now Boeing Aircraft Company. The Wing is in the process of upgrading all T-45A aircraft to the T-45C configuration, which more closely matches the avionics found in tactical fleet aircraft. In a historic partnership with the Navy of India, Training Air Wing TWO began training Indian Naval Students in 2006 and graduated the first class for the Indian Navy in 2007. All students undergo a rigorous syllabus in the T-45 Goshawk on the way to earning their Wings of Gold.

The Training Wing TWO Ground Training Department provides for classroom instruction, computer aided instruction, and flight simulation in instrument and operational flight trainers. Contract maintenance and support departments provide the Navy with maintenance and upkeep for the aircraft, support for the aircrew's flight gear, and support for all of the ground and simulator instruction.
Training Air Wing TWO enjoys operating in a very favorable community climate. The residents of Kingsville have always been ardent supporters of the base and continue to provide opportunities for local involvement in a variety of recreational, educational, and entrepreneurial activities. In conjunction with the NAS Kingsville base personnel, Training Air Wing TWO personnel are actively involved in the local schools, providing role models and mentors to the future of our nation.

Student Naval Aviators selected for Tailhook training are assigned to NAS Kingsville, Texas or NAS Meridian, Mississippi flying the T-45C or T-45A. NAS Meridian uses only the T-45C while NAS Kingsville is nearly completely transitioned to the T-45C. The syllabus incorporates basic instrument flying, formation, night familiarization and airway navigation over approximately 58 graded flights lasting approximately 27 weeks. At the completion of the Tailhook syllabus, approximately 80% of those SNAs are selected for Advanced Strike training, leading ultimately to tactical jets like the F/A-18 or AV-8B (Marine Corps only). The remaining 20% receive further training in the E2/C2 pipeline, ultimately leading to assignment flying either the E-2C or C-2 Greyhound. Marine Corps SNA's automatically continue in the Advanced Strike syllabus and will ultimately fly either the F/A-18, AV-8B, or EA-6B. (2)
(1) From Training Air Wing Two.
(2) From Wikipedia United States Naval Aviation.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Santa Rosa Creek - Cambria Birding

The trail head sign
I slipped away from the grand kids for an hour or so in the morning last week to check out the Lower Santa Rosa Creek Trail west of Highway 1 in Cambria - it turned out to be a gem of a place for birding. The trail head is just off Windsor Drive on the left when you turn left at the stop light off of the highway. I walked less than half of a mile up the trail, but saw many birds among the trees, brush, and open areas along the trail - less than an eighth of a mile in, there was a small trail down to the creek that was free of poison oak that gave an open perspective to the sky above. I walked as far as the second rise in elevation and took a fork in the trail to the left before a bench at the top of that hill. I only had my 50-200 mm zoom lens, and no binoculars. There were many birds, lots of songs and calls, and too little time to sit and wait for repeated appearances along the trail. A bird listener would do better on this route than a bird looker. I think this location is a nice addition to those that are listed on-line for San Luis Obispo County on the Central Coast Birding Trail - a part of the American Birding Association's Birding Trails in North America link.

Identification of birds seen in the environs of Santa Rosa Creek and other drainages in the area: (a) Brown Pelican, (b) Double-crested Cormorant, (c) Heerman's Gull, (d) Western Gull, (e) Wimbrel, (f) Cattle Egret, (g) Brewer's Blackbird, (h) Red-winged Blackbird - Bicolored version, (i) American Crow, (j) Northern Mockingbird, (k) Scrub Jay, (l) blackbirds on Zebra (Hearst Ranch pastures along Highway 1, just north of San Simeon), (m) Barn Swallow, (n) Lesser Goldfinch (?), (o) Eurasian Collared-Dove, (p) Song Sparrow - California Coast variant, (q) Turkey Vulture, (r) Savannah Sparrow (?), (s) Stellar's Jay, and (t) Black-capped Chickadee. There also were Loggerhead Shrike (distinctive wing pattern, but flying away and not fast enough with the camera) and unknown red birds and other yellow birds (I couldn't get my automatic focus to work with birds perched on tall grasses. I should have pointed the camera at the ground below to get a range, and then focused on the birds.) 
A sampling of lower Santa Rosa Creek birds
The creeks runs down from the Coast Range west to the Pacific. In summer, the water is held back by sand dunes before it reaches the ocean and forms a small estuary ending in a pond. A Brown Pelican (a) was a regular there, angling for fish. Western Gull (d) and Heerman's Gull (c) were in significant numbers (as they were also up at San Simeon Bay), and it was a treat seeing a pair of Wimbrel (e) who flew in, hung around, and then flew off to the north. Greater White-fronted Geese were also present.

Two days later when driving on Interstate 5 near Williams, the rice fields had many Red-winged Blackbirds, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, and some North American White Pelican. The complex of wildlife refuges in the Sacramento Valley along the freeway are well marked - some time it would be worth stopping and looking, rather than making the shortest time between distances.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ellie Bogardus - Exterior/Interior Art

A lot of years ago, I saw a television biography about the physicist Richard Feynman, and remember how he and a friend researched and a planned a trip to a really obscure place in the then Soviet Union - Tannu Tuva. Other than just doing it, there was no reason for taking on this adventure. A pretty carefree perspective from a theoretical physicist who was once a member of the Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger space shuttle failure.

Door bell cat 5275 Nottingham Drive
In an earlier blog, I mentioned a search for examples of art done by Ellie Bogardus - a cartoon background scenery artist who lived in Cambria. But all that I could turn up was that which remained on concrete skirts around man hole covers on Nottingham Drive in front of where her house once stood - street art. I had seen a few of her pieces in local galleries, so knew they existed, but no examples were unavailable on the Web, and I didn't know anyone who owned any pieces. I had even emailed the Seago Gallery that once sold her paintings, asking whether they had any remaining photographs of her art - but I didn't receive a reply. (1) Even though my quest was quite prosaic compared to that of a hard-to-reach foreign land and I am not a physical scientist (only had three biochemistry classes and only owned a physical chemistry book - never attempted master that kind of subject) - it was still a personal crusade, of sort - a contemporary art history quest.

Art on door header, residence art
We just returned from spending a few days of vacation in Cambria, and without even trying, I came across relics of Ellie Bogardus art to add to the previous on-line archive. First, the owners of the new house that replaced her cottage have expressions of the characters around the man holes routed into wood on a placard surrounding the door bell button, and on a header board above the front door. These folks obviously were aware of who once resided within the footprint of their new home whose backyard is the Pacific Ocean. I didn't notice these features last September when we were last in Cambria, but for whatever reason noticed them this trip. The second set of remembrances turned out to be in my brother and sister-in-law's home in the East Bay area. When they were visiting Cambria three years ago,
Three Ellie Bogardus originals - Private collection, Danville CA
an art sale was being held at a local restaurant with the proceeds going to benefit the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. As it turned out, there were pieces of Ellie's art for sale, and they bought the three pieces shown above. These are poor photographic renditions, but at least give a fair impression of what her art looked like. While talking to Brian and Dana, they mentioned how they had looked on the Internet trying to find examples of Ellie's art, but to no success. Their gain was mine as well - my art quest moved forward a little.
(1) We found out this same trip that the Seago Gallery is gone - replaced by the Moonstone Redwood Gallery.

Adding to information about Bogardus, a recent Letter to the Editor was posted in San Luis Obispo Tribune (July 29, 2011) that mentioned the artist:

Werner Koch, Cambria

Under Ellie’s influence there must be a few Cambrians who still resemble the charmed society paintings, the Snoopy film background designs, the many live cats, the ebullient personality and the near-rabid sense of humor which comprised Ellie Bogardus. Lucky were any visitors looking hungry or unfamiliar with our area if they encountered Ellie — they would be subject to her come-to-my-home hospitality syndrome. I found cause to practice that a few days ago. In the market I ran into two college-age Dutch men, just arrived in the U.S. via San Francisco and looking quite perplexed. When I asked if there was something they couldn’t find, the answer was “fruit syrup.” In Holland, it is mixed with water for a summer drink. After starting to give directions to Linn’s, I switched into “Ellie mode” and asked if they minded following me home, where I had a brand-new, unopened bottle of olallieberry syrup. A little later, happily settled on my deck, sipping away on their Cambria-grown and packed product, my young guests looked up with me, smiled, and thanked Ellie for her influence over this gathering. All too soon, they were off to the campground for the first night of a three-week, properly supplied, western U.S. journey.