Cinclus mexicanus

This isn’t exactly a lifelook, in the sense that Frank Izaguirre is promoting. But it was my first sighting of this species, it was a good look, and it’s been one of the most personally significant. When people ask me, “what is the best bird you’ve seen?” this is usually the story I tell.

In December 1996 I was visiting family in Sacramento and doing some of my first birding in California. I was fortunate in that the rains that had been pounding wine country let up just before I arrived, so I had some good birds in the Central Valley—my first Sandhill Cranes, for instance. But the lowland rains meant substantial snow cover in the mountains. U.S. 50 was closed, preventing me from getting out to explore at elevation.

Finally, on the morning of Christmas Day, the roads were opened, and I made a dash to the Eldorado National Forest to see some birds before rejoining family for the holiday. I was pretty much limited to finding a parking place on the side of the road, clumping through someone else’s tracks in the snow (three to five feet of it on the ground) for a hundred yards or so, then returning to the car.

Looking at my checklist for the day, I see that I didn’t record much: some juncos, nuthatches, maybe a kinglet. The White-headed Woodpecker was a lifer for me. But it’s when I stopped on a footbridge over a little creek that the Look happened.

I was watching the meltwater rushing downstream, and I noticed a burbling, roiling something under the surface of the water. Just water over the rocks, right?—but then the roiling moved. What, a tiny mammal? I thought. The disturbance continued moving upstream, and then the dark head of a bird broke the surface. The rest of the bird emerged, the size of a thrush or smaller. It was an American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), a/k/a Water Ouzel, doing what it does best, foraging in fast-moving mountain streams. The bird worked the stream a bit more, then took flight, settled in a tree, and sang its whistling, trilling song.

And thus, #227 on my life list.

Posted in Birds and Birding
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I’ll have another

At Shorpy, a delicious photograph from 1963 of the Bombay Bicycle Club bar in New York’s Essex House.

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What do you see?

Language Log

Posted in Fun
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Five white tufts

lunchTIL, thanks to Arthur V. Evans’ recent Beetles of Eastern North America, that a Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica) has five white tufts along each side of the abdomen. You can just make them out in this image I snapped a couple of summers ago at Black Hill of a Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) munching on one of the beetles.

Posted in Fives, Natural Sciences
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Updike decoded

Two notes from Rabbit Is Rich:

I’d never run across the expression “to pass papers” (chapter IV, p. 975 in the Everyman omnibus volume) to describe closing on a real estate transaction. Maybe it’s a Pennsylvania thing. It’s certainly descriptive.

And look who shows up in the closing pages of chapter V, p. 1040:

… the way his brain is going on reminds him of some article he read last year in the paper of Time about some professor at Princeton’s theory that in ancient times the gods spoke to people directly through the left or was it the right half of their brains, they were like robots with radios in their heads telling them everything to do, and then somehow around the time of the ancient Greeks or Assyrians the system broke up, the batteries too weak to hear the orders, though there are glimmers of still and that is why we go to church…

And then Harry uses a couple of epithets to remind us of when and where he grew up. But there, in mangled form, is a précis of the work of Julian Jaynes and his opus, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

Posted in Philosophy, Words Words Words
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Pol Pot & Associates, LLP

Kathleen Akerley serves up another tasty, savory omelette of ideas, one so packed with themes that it would seem to spill off the plate.

What we seem to to have here is the story of six men, partners and paraprofessionals in a law firm, who escape the city to form an agrarian residence in the deep woods, a commune ruled by group votes and a collective job jar. I write “seem to have here” because one of the play’s emphases is the stretch between appearance and reality: one of the characters spends considerable effort to repaint their new home’s tables with a marbleized finish; at times, sounds are naturalistic and at others overamplified. And a seventh actor, sinister Jonathon Church, appears as multiple characters to disrupt the equilibrium of the group, threatening unusual rent increases and police inquiries. Is this a story of six guys who ran off to live in a treehouse, or a six rabbits in an experimental hutch? (The lawyers have taken on new nature-themed names, as in a monastic community, and one of them, Fiver/Fiber? [would that the web site had given us character names] brings to mind Watership Down.) The idea of the malevolent external manipulator is reinforced by various plot points involving the house’s dumb waiter (Mr. Pinter, your check is waiting for you).

Or is this a murder mystery, involving the death of a distinctly weird young lady (the flexible Kira Burri), with interrogations from Church as a police detective that read like questions in the monthly puzzle book’s logic problem? Burri is an oracular young lady who remains warm while dead and capable of moving about at will. Or, perhaps, is it an investigation of what it means to form and maintain a community? Does it naturally settle into layers in which some members are more equal than others (the play’s animal imagery is quite strong— Ravens, Mallards—and we hear echoes of Animal Farm throughout)? How does a flock of birds maintain its shape? How many make a group, and how many of them become a swarm?

Closely linked to this line of thought is the concept of the dictator who rises from the collective to become Brother No. 1, the Southeast Asian despot Pol Pot of the work’s title. Like Colonel Kurtz of Apocalypse Now (lurking in an image of a Willard-like submerged hippopotamus that powers an anecdote about an office copy machine), what drives a visionary community leader like charismatic Michael Glenn’s Frog to madness, knocking out the skylights and building a self-powered flying machine?

Or is it, as the closing dialog suggests, a story about the friendship between two men? We have Michael John Casey’s in-control/not-in-control Hector, ex-office manager. Who is Achilles, and who Patroclus?

With a scrambled timeline and multiple scene resets, the play calls for the ensemble cast to swap out bits of Elizabeth McFadden’s set repeatedly—and they even manage to turn some of these tasks of stagecraft into entertaining bits.

And then there is the thread of Tarot, with the ambiguity of reading the significance of each card in the deck, each image comprising its own reversal. As Hector hints, is our Fool, the man-child Séamus Miller, perhaps the one who is really in charge?

  • Pol Pot & Associates, LLP, written and directed by Kathleen Akerley, Longacre Lea, Callan Theatre, Washington
Posted in Reviews, Theater
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I am relieved

The states of North and South Carolina are completing the resurvey of their common boundary, using high- and low-tech means, as Stephen R. Kelly notes in a recent op-ed and Kim Severson reported some time back. The colonial-era border was intended to consist of two straight lines, the 35th parallel and a diagonal crossing up from the coast. But 18th- and 19th-century surveyors made a hash of it, resulting in today’s rumpled compromise.

The rework was not intended to smooth out any of the coarse wrinkles, like the wobble around the city of Charlotte, but rather to replace the notched trees, now dead, and wandering survey monuments (including one moved by a golf course in order to impress golfers [?!]) that had originally marked the boundary.

But rest assured! South of the Border is still where it “Otto B.”

Posted in History, Tools and Technology
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Crooked Koger watch: 2

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: Robert A. Koger (estranged [?] father of Jeffrey S. Kroger, who went to jail for embezzling homeowners association funds) has been sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment for various fraudulent schemes involving flipping hotel properties. At least Dad hasn’t followed his son’s example, capping the bogus financial dealings with a shoot-em-up.

Posted in Local News and Views
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More biscuit crust, please

Awesome! If I ate like a Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), a frugivorous bird of the American Southwest in the Silky Flycatcher family, I would consume 42 pints of blueberries every day!

Posted in Birds and Birding
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I didn’t need to take the quiz to figure this one out

I am

Which Siglum From Finnegans Wake Are You?

wood s lot

Posted in Literature, Memes
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Rewrite: an update

Tech rehearsals this week for Rewrite have been clean. Folks from the other three shows on the night have been watching the runs, and they seem to think the show is hilarious. This is one of my favorite costumes on the comfy scale: sweatshirt, baggy khakis, and boat shoes; Linus and Dan get to wear the sight gags. My third show for the Stage where most of my action is to sit and type gibberish—easy peasy. There’s one passage where the blocking still feels awkward, but it’s very short. I really like the way Tom Moran (the playwright) has crafted the Author’s texts (the Author is a mediocre-at-best novelist and we hear his first drafts): the Author’s “writing” is flabby and free-wheeling at the same time, and I hope that audiences will find it funny.

Posted in Backstage
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A milestone: 6

It’s been ten years since my first Wikipedia edit. I’ve been a lot more active in the last two years than the previous eight.

Posted in Blogs and Internet
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Epiphany in the gap between paragraphs

Middle age is a wonderful country, all the things you thought would never happen are happening. When he was fifteen, forty-six would have seemed the end of the rainbow, he’d never get there, if a meaning of life was to show up you’d think it would have by now.

Yet at moments it seems it has, there are just no words for it, it is not something you dig for but sits on the top of the table like an unopened dewy beer can.

—John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich
Posted in Quotable
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Work stoopage

It’s a good week for the clueless ones.

Here’s a snippet of an e-mail solicitation I received. At least I think I’m being solicited: it’s a little hard to tell.

Subject: Natural One Way Link Building Proposal

Hello Dear,

Hope you are doing well.

We would like to inform you that, We cant go ahead with you your email because of Google’s Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird updates. In Sept -2013 maximum websites was affected by Google’s updates and to reflect these loss we ware stooped the work. Now, we come out of these updates and now we have continued the work again. We want to aware that we build one link for each keyword in a day and we give you min 100 links/month for each website. if you have more keyword then we build more links. By Google’s parameters we can’t over optimized websites. more package : [REDACTED]

But we are come back to you with some special offer of this November regarding link building campaign, now purchase our link packages then you will get

If you want to purchase our Platinum Package online then please visit: [REDACTED] If you will see 200 links online then don’t worry about it we will provide you 10% extra links.

If you interested in our service then send me site details and we will start work for your project from next working day and you will get report accordingly.
URL: ?,


Des: ?

We will provide weekly update of the off page links. So that, you can check the progress of your project of weekly basis.

We wish you the best of luck for your business and looking forward to a long and healthy business relationship with you and your company.

Work with us and you would see the difference.

Best Regards,

-Kasib Khan

Head of Technical Department

Posted in Annoyances
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Silver Line progress report: 39

Something that we’re still waiting for: silver-colored line markers in the rail cars’ destination signs. The 7000-series cars that will be trickling into service this fall will be equipped to show a Silver Line-ish hue, but Metro has not committed to retrofitting older cars.

The 1000s and 4000s will be retired in the next few years, so they probably won’t have retrofitted or new signs. But the 2000s, 3000s, 5000s, and 6000s will be carrying passengers for many years to come, and it might be helpful for those trains to be able to show the silver color on signs.

Posted in Transit in D.C.
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