Friday, June 29, 2012

Paved Paradise, Put Up A Parking Lot - Hawaiian Birding

Maui: Man and wind powered
I had a quick trip to Hawaii to review a project that was put in place two years ago. Back then, lots was moving into place, and I made four trips in less than eight months, and  hadn't been over since. The schedule I keep doesn't have much room for taking in the sights, mostly just what ever happens to be around the hotel, along the road, or at the meeting site. This trip was no different than the past ones: fly in, have a meeting right away, and the next couple of days, and then take a red-eye flight back home after the last afternoon meeting. At random the first night, I got a hotel room with a view of the ocean off Honolulu, and I made a point of getting up early both mornings (one on Oahu and the other on Maui) and looking for birds - I really do think using melatonin makes a difference for warding off jet lag.

Honolulu seascape
Typically, I am pretty wasted after the 10 hours of flight time from the east coast to Hawaii, so am up at the last minute before heading to the transportation rendezvous place before a meeting. This past Wednesday morning, however, I was up at 4:30 doing emails and getting ready for the day, and then put in a self-led 45 minute Honolulu urban birding excursion. It was the same for Thursday morning, only in a bit of a more rustic setting in Kailea on Maui. I spent an hour or so on the flight to Hawaii reading through my copy of A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Hawai'i: The Main Islands and Offshore Waters by Jim Denny. Typically I purchase my birding guide for where ever I a traveling, but rarely take the time to carefully read about what I may see. The results are remarkable when you do as you should - read first, look later. I also have a copy from the Princeton
Urban Banyan Tree
guide series: A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific, but it is a bit clunky (heavy on text) and the organization of the species if conventional, rather than the groupings by environments in the Denny guide (e.g., Urban Birds, Forest Birds, and so forth) - I found the later more helpful for my serendipitous birding approach. I also noticed that Princeton has a new checklist guide that came out in 2011 - it may be more easy to carry around than the Princeton guide by Brunner, Bennett, and Pratt. I also saw in this month's issue of the Hawaiian Airlines Magazine, there is an article about a new book that is out of original paintings of surviving native Hawaiian birds by artist Marian Berger (1) - The Living Endemic Birds of Hawai‘i: Mea Makamae, limited edition. The only trouble is, the first edition unbound prints are priced at $4,500, and the custom-bound book is $6,000 - by the looks of the art, another Audubon.

Near Waikiki Beach
Shooting shots in an urban setting is a bit uncomfortable - there are people around, even in the early morning. I always smile and say good morning when passing folks - it is amazing how serious, scowling, and frowning faces melt into reciprocating smiles, even when only a glimpse of my smile or a little bit of a resulting friendly squint after making eye contact when passing by. Being in an urban foreign setting is also a little uncomfortable as I pass feeling like I am invading
Picture tells a thousand words
the private spaces of a man waxing his surf board, or a homeless person sleeping along a curb, or a couple in their night clothes sitting out on a hotel balcony while I am clicking off shots of birds, hoping that they don't think I am necessarily using them as unaware subjects - the finery of 300 mm technology.

Following are a sampling of the birds that I saw. After reading up about the birds in Hawaii, it is a little sad to think that most of what you see are not native, rather invaders that came to the islands over the past couple of hundred years. But then, that seems to be the story of Hawaii, a mixing pot for everything made made under the sun over the millennia. Parking lots, strip malls, high-rise hotels, it is still Hawaii.

This is a Red-crested Cardinal - an import from South America. I first saw one of these in Buenos Aires, but didn't get a photograph. This one was on the parking lot sidewalk of a restaurant in Honolulu. Most of the birds in Hawaii are exotics that have been imported over the past 200 years. Note how the bird's coloration blends into the color of the pavement - truly an urban bird - who would have thought about adaptation as urban camouflage.

A Common Myna - quite the vocalist - I saw them everywhere. When flying, they Myna has a prominent white spot on each wing - kind of like a British war plane in WWII. Not quite the same effect as with the Northern Mockingbird, but still notable.

A Japanese White-eye was working the flowers on shrubs along the grounds of the hotel where I stayed on Maui. Even though the bird isn't native, there was the thrill of the "hunt" to get a photograph in a natural looking setting.
Nutmeg Mannikins look like finches with their large beaks. These were working the grass border between the street and sidewalk leading back to my hotel on Maui. These critters are pretty calm toward the approaching photographer. This was one of the first birds I identified during my first trip to Hawaii when on Ford Island.
Gray Francolin is native to northern Africa. I saw these along the brushy border along the beach on Maui, and also out in sugarcane fields where sorghum had been grown in research fields. Sailors set game birds free in Hawaii so that on return trips, they would have food to hunt. This species was a late-comer, being introduced in 1957 - long after the age of sail. This is one of a pair - an entire family was pecking at the sorghum seed out in the cane field.
The Spotted Dove is one of several doves and pigeons seen on the streets of Hawaiian cities. The black with white spots on the bird's back looks like a stylish wrap - quite the urban look as you could imagine in New York City, or San Francisco.

The Zebra Dove is a second of three doves common in Hawaii - in the early-morning, it has feathers who have an almost bluish shimmer.
Here is a familiar species, the House Finch - but it looks a little bit different in Hawaii, more orange in the early Oahu morning light. This is not even a fair quality photograph - the first one I took at 6:00 AM in Honolulu, and on the top of a street light post - but is does show off the coloration difference from the mainland House Finches. Maybe it is a result of a touch of papaya in its diet.
This is the only native bird that I caught on a digital photographic image - the White Tern, in Hawaiian, the Manu o Ku. It darts and dodges gracefully along the main street that borders Waikiki Beach. It may be the first actual tern that I have identified - I haven't paid that much attention to seashore birds. 

Whenever I hear the word tern, I think about the Jimi Hendrix song Moon Turn The Tides - at the end of the song off the Electric Ladyland album Hendrix simulates sea bird calls with his guitar and amplifier effects (2). It was one of my favorite albums that I played over and over again to the point that the grooves in the vinyl platter. I also think it is pretty cool that most all of the native Hawaiian birds have Hawaiian names. Hendrix song would have been even more exotic had it been titled: Moon Manu o Ku The Tides.
(1) Artist Marian Berger is also an exotic import to Hawaii - she is originally from Limerick, Ireland.
(2) The first hint of the sound of terns is at 2:41 into the song, and then prominent at the end of the song beginning at 7:41.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Want To See An Oriole Game, Soon

Jamie Moyer pitching for Tidewater
Jamie Moyer has a good chance for being called up from Triple A Tidewater to Baltimore in the next couple of days. If he does, I want to see an Oriole game. The Mid Atlantic Sports Network Website has a posting about the "what-if's." I am in wait-and-see mode - the Orioles have been winning, so getting tickets can be a bit more of a challenge. We are used to going to games with teams like the Red Sox and the stands being full of their fans. If Moyer makes it back to the Majors, I will be pulling for him to have another win, no earned runs, no walks, and a bunch of confused sluggers wiffing the air.

Decisions pending on Moyer and Reimold (and note)

Roch Kubatko
June 21, 2012 11:31 AM

Left-hander Jamie Moyer made his third start for Triple-A Norfolk last night, throwing 77 pitches in four innings against Buffalo. Now the Orioles are on deck. Moyer can opt out of his contract if the Orioles don't select it from Norfolk and bring him back to the majors. As one team official said, it's "up or opt." Catchy. Moyer isn't listed among Norfolk's upcoming starters. Zach Britton starts today, followed by Chris Tillman on Friday, Dontrelle Willis on Saturday, Jason Berken on Sunday and Miguel Gonzalez on Monday. Moyer has allowed three earned runs (four total) and 11 hits in 16 innings, with no walks and 16 strikeouts. He was removed after the fourth inning last night because of his pitch count. International League batters haven't figured out what to do with Moyer's upper-70s fastball, and Mets knuckleballer R.A Dickey provided a recent example to the Orioles that speed doesn't always matter. At this point, they appear to be leaning toward bringing Moyer to Baltimore, where he pitched from 1993-1995, but nothing is official. The rotation can be adjusted next week because the Orioles are off again on Monday. Moyer could bump Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrieta or Brian Matusz. And executive vice president Dan Duquette continues to look outside the organization for pitching help. Stay tuned.
To follow up on some of the news about Moyer's journey from release by the Rockies to the Orioles' Triple A team, click here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker
The length of the bill makes the difference - the Downy Woodpecker has a more modest bill than the Hairy Woodpecker. Males of both species have a red colored patch on the back of the head - the female (as shown here) has none. All together, we have seen Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Piliated Woodpeckers, and the most abundant for our yard, Downy Woodpeckers, a daily regular. The Wild Bird Center Website has a nice write-up on the Downy Woodpeckers. The suet feeders have made a big difference in attracting woodpeckers to our backyard.

For those feeders placed where squirrels can access them, the hot pepper suet has proven to be a good deterrent. We have also figured out that the suet feeders don't need their own hook, and can be doubled-up with a hanging basket - the birds seem to appreciate this since that configuration provides added landing areas to position themselves before latching onto the feeder (this is also a nice way to display a finch feeder - among hanging baskets). All of these are nice touches for enhancing the appearance of the garden while providing chow for our backyard birds.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Learned Something New - House Finch Conjunctivitis

Putative Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis
Each of the past three years, we have noticed male House Finches with crusty, watery eyes. Along with this, last year and the year before, other finches seemed to be aggressive towards the invalid - pecking at the eyes. We only saw one bird in each of the years, and only with males. The disheveled bird shown in this photograph  was hanging around our yard - able to fly to and from the seed feeder and having a good appetite - but over a three day period seemed to be getting weaker. The last time I saw him, was last Wednesday morning when he was walking on the patio, seeming weak and having difficulty walking without tripping - I haven't seen him since. Until today, I assumed the pathology was inflicted by other birds pecking at the victim, but when Google'ing about House Finch aggressive behavior, I came on a blog from a few years ago that mentioned conjunctivitis. When I referenced "House Finch Conjunctivitis" in another search, the link at the top of the result list was from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. There is a good description about the disease at the site, and it is good to know what the cause of malady. That still doesn't let the little critters off the hook for being aggressive. There are a number of studies available on-line that describe their behavior that backs up our observations of all the pushing, shoving, and pecking that goes on around the bird feeder - even without a sick bird.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt Would Have Said, "Bully"

Big ships on the sea
A number of months back, I heard a radio program PolitiFact feature that reports the truthfulness of political debate topics the previous week. The PolitiFact truthfulness ratings range across: True – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing; Mostly True – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information; Half True – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context; Mostly False – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression; False – The statement is not accurate; Pants on Fire – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

Navy ship refueling at sea
Most of the time, I may know something about the subject, but rarely would I even attempt to make believe that I have extensive first-hand knowledge - know for sure with some degree of certainty that my competency exceeds my confidence. For the past couple of years my work has been focused on biofuels, and in particular, an emphasis on the development of drop-in fuels for the commercial air transportation industry and the military. The realization of widespread use of biofuels is coming closer to reality, and it is satisfying to have a front-row seat to history as it unfolds. United Airlines, Boeing, and others recently announced an initiative to create a source of aviation fuel from Midwest U.S. farms, and earlier this week the Navy continued preparations for the demonstration of biofuels by a strike group during the upcoming RIMPAC exercises in July.

F76 renewable diesel fuel
The past month or so there have also been political challenges to government-sponsored activities, particularly the Navy, to help push the emerging advanced biofuel industry forward. It is interesting to read the accounts of the arguments made for and against biofuels, and to check the facts against what is said. It has also been fascinating to see the press responses that are being printed in a wide range of publications: The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, Wired, and others - quite a cross section of the political spectrum. I checked PolitiFact earlier in the week, but hadn't found any scoring on the matter of recent developments regarding biofuels - maybe soon there will be some.

Following are excerpts with links to full reports from a recent smattering of articles about moves to block the Navy from testing biofuels. I will leave it up to you to make your judgments about the facts - maybe a PolitiFact score could be used to keep track of the debate. 

Airforce And Navy Turn To Biofuels. The Pentagon's hunt for an alternative to petroleum has turned a lowly weed and animal fat into something indistinguishable from jet fuel, and now the military is trying to kick-start a new biofuel industry. [Continue reading here.]

Navy Sails To Greener Future. Next month, in naval exercises off the coast of Hawaii, five U.S. warships will make history: They will be the first to use biofuels to power their huge turbines, as well as the jet planes screaming off a carrier's deck and helicopters hovering overhead. The flotilla—powered by a mixture of cooking grease and algae oil—is the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy's efforts to shake off its centurylong dependence on petroleum. But now it has become the center of a political storm. Lawmakers in both houses of Congress last month voted to stop the Navy from buying any more of the still-pricey alternative fuel and to keep the Pentagon from investing $170 million in new biofuel refineries. [Continue reading here.]

Don't Scuttle The U.S. Navy's Biofuels Program. Last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to restrict the Department of Defense’s biofuels buying power. Jointly the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Agriculture have committed to investing $510 million during the next three years to advance biofuels production. Now, as a part of the Defense Department’s fiscal budget review, the House and now Senate Armed Services Committee have banned it from buying alternative fuels priced higher than fossil fuels. If the budget passes in the full Senate, early biofuels investment and testing by the Defense Department will be effectively squashed. [Continue reading here.]

United, Boeing, Honeywell UOP Join Big Push For Biofuels. If there are still any doubts that biofuels are ready for the big time, last week’s announcement by United Airlines, Boeing, and UOP (a Honeywell company) should put them to rest. The three industry heavyweights have joined with the Chicago Department of Aviation and the Clean Energy Trust to form the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative. [Continue reading here.]

Biofuels Could Bolster Nation Security, Leaders Say. A top British envoy says the U.S. and the U.K. could collaborate more on the development and use of biofuels in the military to boost both nations’ security and energy interests and cut greenhouse gas emissions. [Continue reading here.]

The Navy Plays An Important Role In Biofuel Procurement. The military’s FY2013 budget is playing out to be a hot-bed of debate over the role of government in supporting clean energy innovation. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee passed Department of Defense (DOD) budgets that bans the department from developing or purchasing advanced alternative energy fuels that cost more than traditional fossil fuels. While most of the resulting media focus has been on weighing the possible advantages associated with biofuel use relative to its cost, too little attention has been paid to the important role the DOD can play as a technology-first adopter. [Continue reading here.]

Senate Cuts Off Navy's Biofuel Buys. The Navy’s ambitious renewable-energy plans aren’t sunk quite yet. But they took a major hit Thursday, when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to all-but-ban the military from buying alternative fuels. [Continue reading here.]

McCain Sees Another Solyndra In Navy Biofuels Spending. The Navys push to develop biofuels to run its fleet of planes and warships could devolve into a Solyndra situation for the Pentagon, a top Republican senator said today. During Tuesdays hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) compared the now-bankrupt solar energy company, into which the White House sank $535 million in loan guarantees, to Navy-led efforts in alternative energy. [Continue reading here.] 

Hands Off Biofuels, Panetta Tells Congress. In yet another Washington fight over energy policy, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pushed back Wednesday against Congressional efforts to curtail the military push into alternative fuels. [Continue reading here.] 

USDA's Vilsack Criticizes Senate Panel Biofuels Vote. This week an Obama administration official criticized a U.S. Senate panel for voting to block the Pentagon from buying more costly alternative fuels, saying a military biofuels program announced last year could help revitalize rural America. [Continue reading here.]

Why We Need A Greener Military. Killing a $12 million military program may seem like a paltry matter. The sum amounts to a mere 0.002 percent of the total defense budget. But the elimination of one such program this week by the House Armed Services Committee reveals—more brazenly than many larger tamperings—just how shortsighted, hypocritical, and beholden to special interests the custodians of national security can be. [Continue reading here.]
The Navy's Greet Green Fleet is a contemporary throw back to the world tour by the Great White Fleet in the early 1900's that President Theodore Roosevelt used to demonstrate the U.S. military power, only now, demonstrating the modern capacity using renewable fuels that are technically the equivalent of petroleum-based ones and that will not be subject to price fluctuations.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Another Round Of Training - E2/C2

This past week, our son got his Tailhook selection preference. All of the fellows in his group got their first choice - most wanted the F/A-18. We knew it was a hard choice, and it was coming down to the Sunday evening before his Selection Board on Monday when we got a text message: "I decided to ask for E-2." Friends were over at our house for dinner, and we were sitting at the patio table - we all said "Wow, E-2." at the same time. There were a number of reasons he decided on E2/C2 - the final selection will come later after finishing his T-45 Goshawk training, and then the twin engine T-44A Pegasus before going to a replacement squadron early next year.

E-2 Hawkeye
The wait is over,
A selection made.
It's narrowed down to
An eye in the sky, or
A pack on the back.
It won't hover over the ground,
Or zip through the sky.
Two last choices: 
The E2 Hawkeye, or 

C-2 Greyhound
A fellow I know from working with the Navy is a Navy Reserve F/A-18 pilot. When I mentioned that my son had received his Tailhook selection, here is some of his reply:

I would push him heavily towards C2's if he can get them.  It is certainly one of the best kept secrets in the navy for standard of living. They deploy with the ship but their job is basically ashore and they don't have to do night traps. You have the badge of honor of being a carrier pilot without having the crummy lifestyle. There are down sides, of course - but you meet a lot more happy C2 guys than you do guys who are down on it. That's great. E2's not a bad life either, but you don't live ashore and you do come aboard in all weather. No such thing as a bad flying gig.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Milestones Are In The Details

Thought provoking cover
Jan received a short text message from our Navy pilot-in-training: "I am doing my first carrier landing practice stuff." You can let your imagination run wild with whatever that exactly entails. I found a Weblink that shows practice carrier landings at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. A friend who used to be a Navy helicopter pilot in Vietnam sent me this magazine cover Flying magazine - it seems appropriate for times like this when parents (and girlfriend) wait to hear the details. The details are all milestones. A Navy information Website gives some more background on aircraft carrier landing qualifications.
An example of a training syllabus can be viewed by clicking here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

On The Way Out Of Town - Deleware Side Trip

One of Fresh Pond Park's trails
Earlier in the week, I had a chance to quickly look at Fresh Pond State Park near Bethany Beach, Delaware. I drove Jan to over on Wednesday so she could catch up with a friend there for a few days. As it turned out, I spent the night rather than turning around and driving back to Annapolis the same day. On the way out of town around noon on Maryland highway 26, I kept an eye out for a wildlife area sign I noticed last year during our first trip, as well as when driving into Bethany Beach this time. I parked and took a thirty minute walk down one of the roads in the park.

Virginia Pine bark and local environs
I hadn't walked before in an eastern coastal pine forest. It had a completely different feel to it than the hard wood forests in the Mid-Atlantic region, or the fir forests back home in Oregon. The pine forest smelled dry, and when the wind blew, Pitch Pine or Pinus viginiana limbs rub-against-limb and give off a dry grinding sound. The soil was sandy - naturally because of the close proximity to the ocean.

Wetland marsh beyond the treeline
The trail cut through the woods, and then passed by a lake surrounded by more trees, - eventually I was then led to a wetland marsh area. There were a number of bird songs that could be heard in the distance - the Red-winged Blackbird being the only one I recognized. Since it was mid-day, it wasn't the best birding time. Off over the distant horizon, a vulture was circling. Looking later at a map for the area, I saw that the State Park borders Highway 1 that runs right along
Cricket on pine needles
the coast. This area is just a little ways inland from the Atlantic Ocean. I wanted to get on with my drive home, so after looking around a little, I headed by on the the train the way I had come. I hoped to see some more birds, only caught a photograph of a grasshopper that was settling near the middle of the road. The road was fortified with crushed rock in low places - it seemed obvious that when storms come through, things get pretty wet.

Blue Grossbeak perched on a sign
As I existed the forest road on my way back to the parking lot, I happened on a Blue Grossbeak perched on one of the signs directing visitors to roads to various-numbered deer stands - I assume for viewing and not shooting.  I thought it was an Eastern Bluebird, but after getting back home and enlarging the image in Photoshop, and then breaking out my Stokes Field Guide To Birds, Eastern Edition, I was pleased to have identified a species I hadn't come across. I bought the Stokes Guide last year at the Nature Center for Assateaque National Seashore right after we visited Bethany Beach for the first time.

The sign that first caught my eye
Another surprise from my side trip off Highway 26 was the Antique Prints shop at 42 Central Avenue - just a little ways north of the intersection. I noticed the open sign when heading to Fresh Pond State Park, so on the way back to the highway, I stopped in for a quick look - the stop was worth it. After going back out to my car to get my reading glasses, I looked around on the main floor. There were many thousands of old prints for lots of themes: nature, geography, historic, maritime. There were even some over-sized Audubon prints (note the Reddish Egret print at the
One of the gallery rooms in the shop
bottom right of the photograph above) - I didn't think to check the price. The shop is a converted house, with different rooms stocking different themed prints and paintings. There is an upstairs, but I didn't look for the staircase. I asked for a brochure and business card - I definitely will want to drop in again on my next trip for a much longer time browsing.